Will Williamstown Theatre Festival’s “Most Happy in Concert” Make Everyone Happy?
Williamstown Theatre Festival‘s main stage season opener Most Happy in Concert offers quite a bit to unpack, so let’s open the package and explore what’s inside. Most Happy in Concert is the music from the Frank Loesser hit musical The Most Happy Fella. The show has removed all dialogue and storyline, leaving us to consider only the music, the numerous styles the music is presented in, and where the music and lyrics take its audience.
The production is conceived and directed by Daniel Fish, the man behind the recent Tony award-winning revival of Oklahoma!.
The concert begins on an empty stage, with only a massive 20-plus foot tall curtain of gold mylar strips hung from a black bar. Throughout the concert, the curtain will rise and fall, twirl and spin becoming an integral part of the production. The show begins on an otherwise black stage, revealing to the audience the backstage area and some of the wing space. The performers are just hanging out in the back corner of the stage where they begin to sing with handheld corded microphones. Gradually they enter the main area of the stage.
The cast of seven women and an unseen offstage orchestra of twelve led by musical director and conductor Sean Peter Forte presents a mix of lush, rich, haunting, upbeat, interpretations of Loesser’s music. Whether vocalizing in groups, as soloists, or in the full cast these women have the depth and range to beautifully present whatever musical options have been given to them. Of course, one thing this production proves is that Loesser’s score is truly timeless. The music lends itself to myriad interpretations that allow it to stand up equally on its own or as a part of the original show.
The show’s hit songs, of which there were many, “Standing on the Corner”, “Joey, Joey, Joey”, “Most Happy Fella”, and “Big D” combined with some of the lesser known numbers: “Rosabella”, “Abbondanza”, “How Beautiful the Days” and “Warm All Over” are all exquisitely presented.
There are some downsides to this production. Thomas Dunn’s lighting design is more often than not dark and dramatic. Unfortunately, it keeps the performers in the shadows more than the light. I realize this is a creative choice, and intentional, however, it is distracting to a fault. The aforementioned scenic design by Amy Rubin is interesting but becomes uninspired when for the 70 minutes of the show we watch the curtain go up and down and various light bars rise and fall.
What needs to be mentioned is the tech support. Controlling the cords from the microphones as the performers move about the stage, assisting with on-stage costume changes, and moving the few benches on the stage the tech crew appears on the stage almost as often as the performers themselves. In fact, they become a very subtle part of the cast and are even given a curtain call at the show’s conclusion.
As one audience member said on the way out, ‘if they want to present an in-concert version of the music, then do that… this is not that.’ The show forces one to view theater in a different way than what most of us have come to expect. You will be made to rethink the traditional. It combines the best of Broadway with a new world thought process. It is gender-bending in the performances of certain numbers, the audience gets to imagine what the music means to themselves. It takes you on a ride, if you let it, of introspection, self-definition of what the numbers may mean, and at the very least an opportunity to enjoy the music of traditional Broadway with a new set of lenses. Most Happy in Concert can drag at times, but more often it allows us the chance to hear some stunning music of classic Broadway in a new way. Is it a hit or a miss? That should be left to you to decide. Enter the theatre with no preconceived notions and settle in for 70 minutes of a new theatrical experience.
Most Happy in Concert at the Main Stage of The Williamstown Theatre Festival runs through July 31. For more information: wtfestival.org or call413-458-3253.