Happy Days are here again this week with a new musical touring the country spreading a little kitsch and nostalgia.
If you’re of a certain age you’ll remember the TV show from 40 YEARS AGO (is it really that long?) and the iconic Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli (Aaaay!!) played in his own inimitable way by Henry Winkler.
I caught up with Happy Days – A New Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre last night and the show boasts original songs, which is always a bonus, excellent choreography and fine performances.
But it’s let down by an unoriginal story, poor gags plus weak and contrived dialogue – which is a real surprise considering it is by the Happy Days creator Garry Marshall (though he probably hadn’t heard of Bucks Fizz the pop group when he wrote it).
I have a huge admiration for fledgling producer Amy Anzel whose monumental effort to get the show off the ground was told in Channel 4’s The Sound Of Musicals. It takes guts and determination and she has it by the bucketful.
It’s a good show but not a great show. It is an entertaining night out for us oldies who like to wallow in the past.
Emmerdale’s Ben Freeman has the unenviable task of trying to fill Winkler’s leather jacket and, generally, he succeeds although he sported a blank look in his eyes like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
But he walked the walk and talked the talk. The gestures were all there. It just needed a little more animation to pull it off.
Sexy Sugerbabe Heida Range made a breathless and eminently foxy Pinky Tuscadero, The Fonz’s one-time girlfriend, who returns to help save Arnold’s Diner from closure (with an apostrophe guys – what do they teach in that high school?)
And Scott Waugh, sporting more hair than Ronny Howard ever managed – even in his youth – made a gushing and innocent Ritchie Cunningham, cub reporter-to-be and narrator of the tale.
I’m really not sure what former Buck’s Fizz singer Cheryl Baker was doing in the production because she was sorely under-utilised as Ritchie’s mum and champion housewife Marion.
She was given one big number What I Dreamed Last Night and struggled with it. Similarly, with the accent.
Remember I mentioned contrived dialogue? It’s a double-groaner from the audience when there’s a plug for Baker’s former band – and, embarrassingly, she whips her skirt off to reveal mumsy shorts. Oh dear.
More contrivances when BBC Three Counties Radio presenter Ian Brown made a very brief guest appearance as a radio announcer and attempted an American accent (don’t wait by the phone Ian).
It has a lot of heart. Without the gimmicks there is the essence of a much better musical.
None of the songs are memorable but they are fresh. The show could do with a couple of major production numbers and a big finish.
Guys Like Us features The Fonz, with Elvis and James Dean, and is ripe for development as is Run.
Happy Days – A New Musical runs AT MKT until Saturday. It is at The Lowry, Salford, next week and finishes in Theatre Royal Nottingham, June 30-July 5.