For musical theatre lovers, one of the greatest pleasures we get is when a classic musical is revived well. Another is seeing favorite performers surprise you and delight you with their efforts. As it so happens, I attended two revivals, both full of some of my favorite performers. One of them ranks among the worst of the season (that review will be posted Wednesday). The other, The Most Happy Fella, ranks among the best of this and several recent seasons. Unfortunately, if you didn't get to see it over the past week, you missed it, as this most recent production in the Encores! series closed yesterday. And boy, did you miss something special!
The sheer logistics of giving this show the treatment it deserves are daunting - there is a huge cast of singers and dancers, and Frank Loesser's lush, alternately operatic and musical score needs a huge orchestra. In today's Broadway economical environment, a commercial revival seems very unlikely. But that is the beauty of Encores! There were a whopping 77 people on the New York City Center stage - 38 each in the cast and orchestra, and conductor Rob Berman, whose skilled baton and masterful musical direction brought this masterpiece to loving life.
|Armstron Johnson and Blickenstaff
lead the Company in "Big D"
Casey Nicholaw proves again that he has a variety of skills in his directorial arsenal. This production requires economy - there is little scenery and no effects to rely on, and pretty limited space, and yet he has created a stylized, smoothly flowing production full of memorable moments. And his dances are just as smooth and definitely flowing, combining ballet, jazz and traditional Broadway-style hoofing. There are several times when the huge company is dancing and it never looks crowded or like any compromises were made due to space restrictions, either. Even more to his credit is that he did all of this while shepherding Aladdin to its opening night!
|Jessica Molaskey and Shuler Hensley
|Cheyenne Jackson and Laura Benanti
It is said that they just don't write 'em like that any more. And it is so true - tight story-telling, a variety of emotional characters and an even wider variety of music just doesn't happen like this much anymore. And a lot of what we look for these days in the "modern musical" was already around nearly 60 years ago. We have so much to be thankful to Frank Loesser for.