The Most Happy Fella: Frank Loesser’s 1950s catfishing musical returns

The Encores! series takes a look back at a classic musical about love and deception

The Most Happy Fella

The Most Happy Fella Photograph: Joan Marcus

Much has been written about the online phenomenon known as catfishing, in which someone uses fake photos—usually of a more conventionally attractive person—to spark an Internet romance. But only the technology is new: The hottie-bait-and-switch plot has been a staple of world drama for centuries, most famously in the “bed trick” device of 17th-century English drama and in Edmund de Rostand’s romantic tragedy Cyrano de Bergerac (recently revived on Broadway in 2007 and again in 2012). The advent of photography, of course, made the switcheroo easier, as depicted in Sidney Howard’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1924 drama, They Knew What They Wanted, about a kind but plain-featured vintner who employs a photograph of a strapping farmhand to lure a pretty young waitress to his side.

Howard’s play was the inspiration for the gorgeous 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella, a sung-through, semi-operatic piece with book, music and lyrics by the great Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls). Now’s your chance to catch it: This week, City Center’s beloved Encores! series is reviving the show in a concert staging, with a full orchestra and a terrific company headlined by Shuler Hensley (Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land) as the lovelorn Tony, Laura Benanti (Gypsy) as the understandably confused Rosabella, and Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu) as the handsome Joe. (Heidi Blickenstaff, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Jessica Molaskey complete the main cast.) The Most Happy Fella is one of the great treasures of the Broadway repertoire, and we can’t wait to see what Encores! and director Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon) do with it.

Bonus round! Starting on Saturday 5, Pan Asian Rep is presenting the local premiere of Fishing for Wives, Edward Sakamoto’s tale of a lonesome Japanese-Hawaiian fisherman who tries to entrap a Japanese woman into marriage by—you guessed it—mailing her a picture of his good-looking friend. Catfish, apparently, is in season.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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