"Warm All Over": The Most Happy Fella Composer Frank Loesser's Musical Achievement

By Rob Berman
30 Mar 2014

It was no surprise that the songwriter who gave us "Once In Love With Amy" and "Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat" would now score so successfully with songs like "Standing On the Corner" or "Big D". But Loesser pushed himself into new territory with the unabashedly full-bodied romance of the love duet "My Heart Is So Full Of You" or with the sumptuous tenderness of "Warm All Over." The music for Tony and Rosabella is lush and demanding and requires singers with real technique and stamina.

In the 1950's, operatic singing on Broadway was in vogue; it was heard in musicals like Kismet and Broadway productions of operas such as Menotti's The Saint of Bleecker Street. Opera stars regularly appeared in musicals — such as Ezio Pinza in Fanny or Helen Traubel in Pipe Dream — but sometimes the results were mixed and the casting incongruous. Loesser took wonderful advantage of this trend by successfully casting the baritone Robert Weede in the role of Tony as well as by lovingly sending up the Italian bel canto style in the songs for the three chefs, "Abbondanza" and "Benvenuta."

But even Loesser himself resisted calling it an opera. He was quoted as saying "It is a musical with a lot of music." Loesser was a dramatist as well as a great tunesmith and for him, the words were as important as the music. What is remarkable in Loesser's score is the consistency with which all the characters use language that makes them sound like regular folks even when the music soars into loftier territory. There is a colloquial naturalism and a seamlessness between spoken words and sung lyrics.

The emphasis on the humanity of each character is at the core of what makes The Most Happy Fella an emotionally satisfying story. It is a story about forgiveness. It is a story about people who learn to let go of old notions, forgive each other, and embrace the circumstances of the lives they lead. We can all recognize the mistakes these characters make and bask in the warmth of the love that develops between them. In The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote, "Broadway is used to heart. It is not accustomed to evocations of the soul."

We return to the question, what is it? An opera? An operetta? A musical comedy? One could call it a Broadway musical with operatic tendencies. However, it may be safest just to say that it defies categorization and that it's the unique show Loesser intended to write: one bursting at the seams with passion, with music, with mirth, with regret, all the things that make up life itself.