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‘Most Happy Fella’ is next for Skylark; IndiaFest in St. Paul

Cosi fan tutte
Courtesy of the Skylark Opera Theatre
Past productions from the Skylark Opera Theatre and Artistic Director Bob Neu include Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.”

Skylark Opera Theatre has revealed its next production: Frank Loesser’s “Most Happy Fella.” Artistic Director Bob Neu describes it as “everyone’s favorite musical they’ve never seen. For lovers of music theater, the piece is somehow solidly part of our internal repertoire but yet very few of us have actually seen a production – and this is probably because the piece is darned difficult to cast and produce.”

Neu and Skylark are not daunted by difficulty. Past productions have included Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” in March (months before the Mill City Opera’s production), the Minnesota premiere of Laura Kaminsky and Mark Campbell’s hit transgender opera “As One” in 2018, and in 2017, both Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Peter Brook’s “The Tragedy of Carmen.” All were site-specific and distilled to their essence, skipping elaborate sets and costumes, nonessential cast and even the orchestra. In a Skylark production, the score is sometimes performed on a keyboard. “Carmen” added viola and cello, “As One” had a string quartet.

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “They Knew What They Wanted,” “Fella” premiered on Broadway in 1956. It’s the story of a May-December romance between a city girl and an aging Italian grape farmer. The music and lyrics are by Frank Loesser, whose “Guys and Dolls” is the Guthrie’s summer musical – in a far larger production than Skylark will mount. Songs you might have heard include “Joey, Joey, Joey” and “Standing on the Corner.”

So is “Fella” a musical or an opera? It has been called “an ambitious Broadway opera” and “Loesser’s attempt at near-opera” – before Andrew Lloyd Weber and Sondheim. Loesser himself said “I may give the impression this show has operatic tendencies” but described it as “a musical with music.”


We’ll see, and hear, when “The Most Happy Fella” opens at the Historic Mounds Theater (where Skylark’s “Cosi” was staged) on Oct. 11 for six performances. Bill Marshall and Sarah Lawrence will star, with a chorus of four to six singers. The score will be played on two pianos. FMI. Tickets will go on sale Aug. 15.

The picks

Acoustic Deathwish
Courtesy of the artists
Brandon Wozniak (tenor sax), Anthony Cox (upright bass) and Dave King (drums) perform tonight at the Dakota as Acoustic Deathwish.
Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 6) at the Dakota: Acoustic Deathwish. In a town where jazz musicians play in many different bands, some more enduring than others, mainly so they can play with their friends, Brandon Wozniak (tenor sax), Anthony Cox (upright bass) and Dave King (drums) have made music together before. But now it’s official: They’re a trio. Anthony Cox came up with the name and they debuted at Crooners in May, then met again for two nights in June during the last days of Vieux Carré.  We saw them there and they were full of surprises. With Wozniak out front, they delivered a setlist of standards (Ornette Coleman, Bud Powell) and lyrical originals by Cox. It was much more straight-ahead than we expected, and more beautiful. They are “a new band of three bada**es,” as we originally noted, but so bad they can play like angels. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-25).

Tonight at Crooners: Richard Johnson Quartet Plays Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out.” Ow, tough choice tonight between the Dakota (above) and Crooners. Sorry about that. But it’s our duty to tell you about both. Johnson is a remarkable pianist, and this is his most popular program: a performance of Dave Brubeck’s classic 1959 album for Columbia, whose title track became the biggest-selling jazz single ever. This time, Johnson will be joined by Chicago saxophonist Pat Mallinger, a fine player known to anyone who frequented the Artists’ Quarter in the pre-Vieux Carré days. 7:30 p.m. in the Dunsmore Room. FMI and tickets ($15-20).

R.J. Kern
R.J. Kern
Supreme Champion Goose Male / Female Pair, 2018 Minnesota State Fair, 2019, salt print over archival pigment print, Edition of 5 + 2APs, 20 x 24 inches, from The Best of the Best
Thursday at Burnet Fine Art & Advisory: R.J. Kern: “The Best of the Best.” A solo exhibition of new work by R.J. Kern, this year’s Minnesota State Fair commemorative artist. Like the art Kern created for the fair, this show features champion animals from 2018’s Great Minnesota Get-Together. But here he takes these images to a new and fascinating place, combining 19th-century salt printing techniques with contemporary inkjet printing for a past-meets-present, then-and-now exploration of domesticated animals and photographic technology. The first animal contests were held in the 19th century; the first major exhibition of photography took place at the 1851 World’s Fair in London. If you’re familiar with Kern’s earlier work, “The Sheep and the Goats” and/or “The Unchosen Ones,” this is another step in his evolution as an artist and a storyteller. 6-8 p.m. Free and open to the public. Closes Aug. 31.

Saturday on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds: IndiaFest. The annual daylong celebration of India’s heritage, traditions, diversity, culture – and food, food, food. Performers will include Minnesota’s Katha Dance Theatre and Natyakala Dance Academy, Geetamahatmyam from India, and live Bollywood music. A new Experience India in a Day feature will dress you in Indian saris and turbans, decorate your hands with henna and snap your picture in a social booth, because what’s life without Instagram? There will be booths, exhibits, activities, a bazaar, awards, and a raffle. FMI and free Metro Transit pass. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Free.

Plan ahead

Superstar trumpeter, friend of Sting, and reportedly the largest-selling American instrumental artist in the world, Chris Botti is far more likely to play an amphitheater, a festival or a concert hall than an intimate club like the Dakota. He’ll make his debut at the Nicollet Mall music club on April 2-5, 2020, playing two shows each night, and tickets are on sale now. Botti always travels with a top-tier band. Don’t wait on this one. Best prices: Thursday, April 2. FMI and tickets ($60-160).

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