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Based on They Knew What They Wanted by SIDNEY HOWARD

First produced at the Imperial Theatre on May 3, 1956, with Robert Weede as "Tony", Jo Sullivan as "Rosabella" and Art Lund as "Joe".

THE first scene takes place in a middle-class French restaurant in San Francisco, where Cleo and Rosabella are waitresses. The latter has received a note from one of the patrons, Antonio Esposito of Napa, California, who begs her to correspond with him.

When the scene shifts to Tony's ranch in Napa he has been corresponding with Rosabella for several weeks. After receiving her photograph, he feels he is in love with her and wants to marry her ("I'm a Most Happy Fella"). Rosabella has asked him, in exchange, for one of his pictures, but being middle-aged and not too attractive, he is afraid to send it for fear of losing her.

On the Main Street, four young men--including Herman, one of Tony's hired hands--are remarking that Tony, having found a girl to love, should really be a happy man. As far as they are concerned, all they can do is to stare at girls from a street corner ("Standing on the Corner").

Back at the ranch, Joe--Tony's foreman--tells his employer that he is growing restless and is thinking of quitting his job. Tony asks Joe for his photograph as a momento. Later on, in his desperate attempt to win Rosabella's love, Tony sends her Joe's photograph as his own.

This photograph achieves its mission. Rosabella is coming to Napa to marry Tony. The place is festive and the townspeople are celebrating. Rosabella arrives, valise in hand, timid and self-conscious. Seeing Joe, she recognizes him from the photograph, and thus believes he is her future husband. But Joe soon disenchants her and reveals to her Tony's deception. Upset, Rosabella insists she is going back to San Francisco without ever seeing Tony. Just then an uproar is heard. Tony, en route to meet Rosabella at the bus depot, had suffered a serious accident and is now being brought home on a stretcher. When Tony sees Rosabella his face glows with happiness, and he addresses her with such tenderness that Rosabella cannot summon the courage to tell him she is leaving.

And so, after a period of convalescence, Tony marries Rosabella. Soon after the wedding ceremony Rosabella rushes outside the house. She is weeping--unhappy at the fate that has tied her to an old, sick man. Joe--now compelled by circumstances to stay on as Tony's foreman--consoles her. It is not long before they are in each other's arms.

After several weeks have elapsed, Tony--fearful that Rosabella might become bored and lonesome in Napa--sends for Cleo to come and live with them ("Happy to Make Your Acquaintance"). When she arrives Herman greets her ("Big D"); they become interested in each other at once. Rosabella describes to Cleo how tender, solicitous and generous Tony has been to her, and how she has come really to love him. Later on, Rosabella confides her feelings to Tony himself. This inspires such delight in Tony that he decides to throw a mamoth party. At its height Rosabella is seen, valise in hand, dressed for a journey. She is leaving Napa and Tony for good, having learned that she is pregnant with Joe's baby. When she breaks down and confesses the truth to Tony he is seized by such a fit of rage that he raises his cane to strike her and to shout warnings that he will kill Joe at sight.

Rosabella and Cleo have come to the bus depot at Napa to leave for San Francisco. But they are followed by Tony, come to take Rosabella back with him. He loves her too much not to forgive. Besides, he is overjoyed at the thought that she will give birth to a child who will become "Tony's bambino".

Though there are several outstanding songs in Loesser's score, it is much more than just a collection of fine tunes. For The Most Happy Fella, Loesser created a music of almost operatic dimensions. Almost three-quarters of the play is set to music. As Don Walker, the play's orchestrator, pointed out, "We pass into dialogue only for those developments that are not emotional in content, such as exposition." Within this expansive frame, Loesser has placed arias, recitatives, duets, canons, choral numbers, dances, instrumental interludes, parodies and folk hymns. "He has told" said Brooks Atkinson, "everything of vital importance in terms of dramatic music."

The Most Happy Fella had a run of about two years on Broadway (678 performances) before going on tour. The New York Drama Critics Circle selected it as the best musical of the season.

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This document was originally published in The Complete Book of Light Opera. Mark Lubbock. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 904-5.

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