Tulsa director takes on challenge of 'Most Happy Fella'
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2013
2/17/13 at 4:14 AM
Dorothy Danner is one lucky director.
At least, that is what people have been telling her ever since she agreed to be the stage director for Tulsa Opera's production of "The Most Happy Fella."
"When you say that you're getting ready to do another 'Carmen,' let's say, then you tend to get sympathy from your friends and colleagues," Danner said during a break between rehearsals at the Tulsa PAC. "It's not that there's anything wrong with directing 'Carmen' - it's just that 'Carmen' is one of those operas that gets done again and again.
"So when I would say my next job was 'The Most Happy Fella,'" she said, "everyone would say, 'Oh, aren't you lucky, to get to do that show!' "
"Lucky" might not be the exact word Danner would use to describe how she feels about working on this Frank Loesser musical about a May-December romance and its complications.
But the challenge of bringing together all the elements of this production into a whole is something Danner obviously relishes.
"We did the first run-through today of the whole show," she said, "and I think a lot of the cast is a little shell-shocked. You don't really get the sense of how big a show it is until you do it straight through.
"And it's a challenge because there isn't a natural kind of flow to how all the pieces are to go together," Danner said. "As a director, what you've got is this marvelous puzzle, and it's up to you to fit all of it together. And the joy of it is that you're dealing with truly marvelous material - a great story and wonderfully satisfying music."
"The Most Happy Fella" was one of Loesser's most successful Broadway shows, along with "Guys and Dolls," "Where's Charley?" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
The complexity and vocal demands of the show's music, and the fact that it relies more on songs than dialogue to tell its story and define its characters, have led some to characterize it as an opera rather than a musical.
Loesser himself once said, "I may give the impression this show has operatic tendencies. If people feel that way - fine. Actually all it has is a great frequency of songs. It's a musical with music."
In any case, "The Most Happy Fella" has become more of a staple of opera houses in recent years than the musical stage, because of the demands it places on its singers.
Tulsa Opera's production stars Kim Josephson, who last performed with Tulsa Opera in 2002, as Tony, and Christopher Feigum, who starred in the company's 2011 "Don Giovanni," as Joey, with Oklahoma native Katrina Thurman as Rosabella, the woman who comes between the two men.
This is officially Danner's debut with Tulsa Opera as a director, although she has worked with the company once before, as a choreographer.
"I was here for a production of 'The Ballad of Baby Doe' way back when," she said (which translates to 1976). "The director (Patrick Bakman) was someone I knew, who had all the academic degrees, but very little practical experience. So we were complete opposites in background, but we worked well together."
Danner got her start as a dancer, getting roles in the touring musicals that came through St. Louis, where she grew up.
"And that was great training," she said. "Those of us who went through that and went on to New York City, as I did right out of high school, we could handle any dance combination Broadway choreographers threw at us."
She worked on stage and television for a number of years, including being part of the original production of "Once Upon a Mattress."
"Then I married an opera singer," Danner said. That was Harry Danner, brother of actress Blythe Danner. "And around 1970, we had just had a child, so I decided to take a summer off and went with my husband, who was singing with an opera company in Lake George, N.Y."
It was there that the company's artistic director, David Lloyd, began encouraging Danner to explore things other than performing.
"David Lloyd was the person who opened the door to my becoming director - he opened the door, then shoved me through it," she said, laughing. "At these small companies, you end up doing everything. First he wanted me to choreograph a few dance pieces. Then he wanted me to direct a scenes program.
"And it just kept going from there," Danner said.
Danner works as a director - primarily of opera - throughout the country, earning praise for her often-innovative staging, such as a recent production of "Madama Butterfly" at Virginia Opera, that framed the action as a remembrance of the title character's now-grown son.
But innovation isn't necessary for "The Most Happy Fella," she said.
"What I love about this show is the fullness of it, the generosity," Danner said. "It's a show about people with a great deal of heart, and that has to be seen on the stage.
"This isn't a show that you can be cool about," Danner said. "That modern detachment you see so much - no-no. You have to be emotional as a performer for this show to work. There's no gimmicks, no cleverness, just real people feeling things deeply and expressing those feelings openly. That's what makes this show so satisfying to do."
‘THE MOST HAPPY FELLA,’ PRESENTED BY TULSA OPERA
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and
March 1, 2:30 p.m. March 3
Where: Chapman Music Hall, Tulsa
PAC, 101 E. Third St.
Tickets: $54-$98. 918-596-7111,
Original Print Headline: Joyous strains
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Dorothy Danner, director of the upcoming production of "The Most Happy Fella," sits for a photo at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World