When Columbia Records came to record and release the original Broadway cast album of Frank Loesser's 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella, the company opted to present the show as a whole in a three-LP box set, an unusually lavish treatment that emphasized its near-operatic character. Four years later, The Most Happy Fella finally crossed the Atlantic to open successfully in London's West End on April 21, 1960, and HMV Records contented itself with a conventional single-disc LP, which is given an unlicensed reissue here by Sepia Records 50 years later. While necessarily less complete than its predecessor, the album gives another good account of Loesser's ambitious work. Unlike many British versions of musicals set in America, it is not plagued by bad American accents, and its performers are assured and comfortable in their portrayals. But then, some of them were quite experienced by 1960. New Zealander Inia Te Wiata, in the title role of Italian immigrant wine grower Tony, had been a replacement for Robert Weede in the same part on Broadway in 1957. Art Lund, as Joe, the carefree and careless cowboy, had created the part on Broadway in 1956. Certainly, the listener does not get the full sense of the show that the Broadway album provides, but all the big songs are here, including "Standing on the Corner," "Joey, Joey, Joey," and "Big D," and all are performed well. Sepia adds eight bonus tracks, which consist of contemporary 1960 British recordings of the songs. The King Brothers' Top Five U.K. hit version of "Standing on the Corner" is followed by a pop version of "My Heart Is So Full of You" by Te Wiata. Then comes what annotator Rexton S. Bunnett diplomatically describes as "an interesting alternative" to Te Wiata in the form of six tracks by Edmund Hockridge. Hockridge was a transplanted Canadian baritone who specialized in appearing in West End productions of Broadway musicals, a sort of Commonwealth equivalent of John Raitt or Gordon MacRae. He has one of those big, booming voices, and he doesn't bother with the heavy Italian accent affected by stage Tonys, which can be odd, such as when he sings "Happy to Make Your Acquaintance," which is intended to be a duet in which Tony is instructed in English, as a solo and without any apparent difficulty in pronunciation. Interesting, indeed.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|The Most Happy Fella|