Sept. 25--Calling the current Goodspeed Opera House production of "The Most Happy Fella" a "dream come true" for Bill Nolte is no cliche.
The actor has wanted to play the starring role of the lovelorn vineyard owner, Tony, in the Frank Loesser classic since he was in college 40 years ago.
"I had a teacher I worshipped who had done the role and I thought, 'Oh, God, will I ever be able to do it?' It's such a big part and he is such an OLD man," Nolte said, laughing, before a rehearsal in East Haddam.
The actor-singer received the vocal training necessary for a role that often goes to opera singers rather than musical comedy performers, but he has spent much of his career in more conventional Broadway shows, such as "The Producers."
Nolte has been circling around "The Most Happy Fella" for years, however.
"I did a Frank Loesser evening at (Manhattan's) 92nd St. Y where I got to sing some of the Tony material. It was the first time I sang 'My Heart is So Full of You,' " he said of the soaring aria that comes at the end of the show, when the burly, middle-aged character finds his long-deferred romantic happiness.
"It was a little taste that put the role at the top of my wish list," he said.
Last year, when a production in Texas lost its Tony, Nolte jumped at the chance to fill in for a short run.
"We rehearsed it in three weeks -- and then did seven performances over two weeks -- but it felt like I had been working my whole career to sing that role," he said.
When Nolte heard that Goodspeed was doing a major revival of the show, he auditioned and was thrilled to learn that he would be playing Tony for an extended run this fall at the same venue where he did "Man of La Mancha" and "Sweeney Todd."
Rehearsals with director Rob Ruggiero have been everything Nolte hoped for.
"We've explored aspects of the piece and of Tony that I never knew were there," the actor said.
"The Most Happy Fella" remains one of the most daring musicals in Broadway history, a mix of show tunes and opera unlike anything else in the career of the man who did the scores for "Guys and Dolls" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
Broadway producers were scared of the amount of music in Loesser's score and cuts were made before the show opened to strong reviews in 1956. (There was still so much music, however, that "The Most Happy Fella" received a rare two-record Broadway cast album.)
The show tells the story of a Napa Valley man who is so embarrassed by the way he looks and sounds that he uses a picture of one of his handsome workers when he starts a lonely-hearts correspondence with a waitress in San Francisco.
Rosabella arrives in Napa to meet Tony, but gets involved in a romantic triangle that also includes the good-looking Joe. The mix of comedy, romance and heartbreak is perfectly captured in Loesser's soaring and melancholy score.
Nolte is aware of the fact that there are not many people who are capable of carrying Tony's heavy song load in "The Most Happy Fella," which includes singing the most challenging music in the final scene.
"I am so proud of the fact that I am finally able to do the show," Nolte said, adding that he is looking forward to exploring the considerable challenges of "The Most Happy Fella" over the next three months.
"I'm going to have to learn to pace myself once the run starts," he said before heading off to a rehearsal. "But this is what I trained as a singer to do and I am so happy to put it to a test."
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @joesview
Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam. Through Dec. 1. Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 28 at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 29 at 2 and 6:30 p.m.; and Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. $76.50-$32.50. 860-873-8668.
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