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Complete Recorded Shows...

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Like early versions of books on tape, some shows were deemed so important, neigh impossible to appreciate without a full airing, that several record companies (mainly Columbia) recorded complete shows.

We’re not going to discuss the plays that were captured on vinyl. And actually, we’re going to skip all the also-rans in the musical field and concentrate on the greatest of all complete recordings, Frank Loesser’s masterpiece (yes, masterpiece) The Most Happy Fella.

Why does this recording best all the others? Because, like operas that usually got the 3-LP treatment, The Most Happy Fella is best appreciated as a whole rather than a series of songs without the recitative and sung ligaments holding the entire thing together. Not quite an opera, not really a musical in form, Loesser’s achievement (and he wrote the music, lyrics and dialogue) ably captures it’s source, Sidney Howard’s play, They Knew What They Wanted.

The score is wildly divergent. It ranges from the traditional musical comedy comic song “Ooh My Feet” to the operatic “My Heart Is So Full of You,” from large choral numbers “Abbondonza” and “Sposalizio” to popular hits “Standin’ on the Corner” and “Big D” to simplicity of “Love and Kindness” and “Warm All Over.” This is one of the richest scores in musical comedy.

It’s interesting to note that in 1954, Harold Rome’s emotionally rich show Fanny opened. Also with an opera star in the lead and also the plot revolving on an older man adopting the baby of a younger man and the woman they both loved as his own. And in 1956’s The Most Happy Fella it’s Tony, self-described as “An Old Man” who adopts the newborn of his mail-order bride, and the young man whose wanderlust makes him go wandering.

And some of the score of The Most Happy Fella is also reminiscent of Harold Rome’s  Fanny. The former’s “Joey, Joey, Joey” as sung by the character Joey (natch) is all about having the need to constantly move on at the impossible task of finding oneself. And in Fanny, Marius yearns for a life on the sea when he sings “Restless Heart.” Both leave newborns behind to be adopted by the older leading characters as their own.

Both shows are achingly poignant. Sadly, Fanny has slipped somewhat into obscurity like many of Harold Rome’s scores. But The Most Happy Fella lives on with as complete a recording as could fit on three LPs. It’s a glorious score with operatic ballads, hilarious character numbers, and something rare that both scores share, poignancy.  And that’s what gives both their strengths. Flawed characters trying to be true to themselves while dealing with each other in sometimes dramatic, sometimes humorous ways.

Do yourself a favor and check out both scores on CD and downloads.

 


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