arts 03.18.14

Frank Loesser
Every Person in New York

In the last nine decades or so, Americans (and a few pesky Brits) have created a trove of for-the-ages musicals. We'd put West Side Story, Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Carousel, and most Sondheim shows in that category and at least a dozen other contenders.

Lots of hands are involved in the creation of a new musical, and, in the best circumstances, great theater can come from the collaborative effort. To our way of thinking, though, only three perfect musicals (by perfect, we mean no weak links in the score, no cruft in the storytelling, with that ineffable charge of the right people with the right material) have ever been written: My Fair Lady, Gypsy and Guys and Dolls. All of them opened in the 1950s, the decade considered to be the golden age of Broadway musicals.

Frank Loesser, who wrote the music and lyrics to Guys and Dolls, was born in New York City in 1910. During his career, he wrote four Broadway musicals besides Guys and Dolls: Where's Charley?, Greenwillow, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and The Most Happy Fella.

The Most Happy Fella is a May-December romance between a Napa Valley farmer and a San Francisco waitress, a musical with operatic elements for which Loesser wrote the music, lyrics and book. It's not as seamless as Guys and Dolls but it's more ambitious and its pleasures are many. The show has first-rate, if conventional, numbers like "Big D" and "Standing on the Corner." But when Most Happy Fella goes for the high notes, it has sublime, full-throated moments like "My Heart is So Full of You" that few musicals can touch.

An Encores! production of Most Happy Fella is at City Center April 2-6, with a dreamy cast, including Laura Benanti, Shuler Hensley, Heidi Blickenstaff and Cheyenne Jackson. It will be directed by Casey Nicholaw and features a concert adaptation by the plentifully-talented Bill Rosenfield who, among other things, possesses full institutional knowledge of musical theater history.

Frank Loesser's output for the theater was regrettably small (he died in 1969 at age 59) but he is unquestionably one of musical theater's lions. The Most Happy Fella is his warmest embrace.

Jason Polan started Every Person in New York in March of 2008. He plans on working on the project until it is finished. Look for Every Person in New York on Tuesdays in MUG and daily at Jason's site.

New York City (from 2012)

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