Happy Days the Musical

Book by Garry Marshall, music and lyrics by Paul Williams
Amy Anzel in association with Todd Ruppert of RTR International
Sunderland Empire

The full cast Credit: Paul Coltas
Andrew Waldron (Ralph Malph), Scott Waugh (Richie Cunningam), Eddie Myles (Chachi Arcola) & Jason Winter (Potsie Weber) Credit: Paul Coltas
Ben Freeman (The Fonz) and the girls Credit: Paul Coltas

The TV series Happy Days, which ran from 1974 to 1984, painted an idealised picture of small town America in the fifties and created one almost iconic figure, good 'bad boy' Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler.

This new musical, with book by the original writer Garry Marshall, is currently touring the UK for the first time. It tells the story of the fight to save Arnold's Diner which is threatened by a new development. Leading the fight is, of course, the Cunningham family, aided by friends young and old, including the Leopard Lodge of which father Howard Cunningham (James Paterson) is a leading member.

Everything about the setting is right: the bright colours of the very flexible set; the neon lights; the late 50s (it's set in 1959) costumes, with the girls in big skirts and net petticoats and the boys in college boy gear (except, of course, for The Fonz in his signature white tee-shirt, black leather jacket and jeans). Tom Rodgers, who designed both set and costumes, has done an excellent job of setting the period exactly, aided in no small measure by Philip Gladwell's lighting.

The cast are superb, too. They capture the original characters exactly and sing and dance with huge energy and skill. Andfrew Wright, who both directs and choreographs, gets the best out of this very talented ensemble which includes well-established performers (Cheryl Baker from Bucks Fizz, for example) and newcomers such a Scott Waugh (Richie Cunningham) who is making his professional debut.

Unfortunately the plot is weak and the music weaker. The structure is simple: short scene followed by routine, then on to the next scene, then next routine, and so on. However, the original theme tune, "Happy Days", stands head and shoulders above the rest of the songs which, although they have the right feel for the period, are pretty indistinguishable.

The second half is stronger than the first with one or two interesting ideas—Elvis and James Dean appear too and sing with Fonzie, for example, and the vamp (Pinky Tuscadero, played by Heidi Range) and Cheryl Baker's Marion Cunningham swap roles—but it's always the production and performances which hold the attention, not the story or the music.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan