Monday, May 12, 2008

Review of "Happy Days--the Musical"

“Happy Days,” the musical spawned by the long running television show, now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, is pure unadulterated fun—no hidden agendas, no secret plot lines, no surprise endings, just wholesome entertainment like…like…well like what the TV show was all about.

All the gang is on stage singing and dancing—Richie, Potsie, Ralph, Joanie, Chachi, Pinky and, of course, The Fonz. They are out to prevent their beloved Arnold’s from turning into a, heaven forbid, parking lot.

Garry Marshall, creator of the original series, has penned a book that provides more than its fair share of laughs but, more importantly, plays it straight as opposed to devolving into self-parody. That’s what has killed all the revivals of “Grease” over the yeas. The actors portraying Danny Zucco now strut, pose and prance around the stage which has the affect of breaking down the fourth wall between audience members and cast, throwing off the pacing of that show. The creative team behind “Happy Days” have wisely steered the straight and narrow, doing without the winks and nods to the audience and allowing the musical to advance at a brisk pace, providing a festive diversion in the theater.

The cast is uniformily fine. Some of the standouts included the cuties Joanie and Chachi, played by Savannah Wise and Lannon Killea, respectively; the hard-edged, but sultry Sandra DeNise as The Fonz’s love interest, Pinky; Cynthia Ferrer as the housebound, perfect housewife, Mrs. C.; Matt Walker providing a nice comedic touch in a variety of roles; and Joey Sorge who does a dead-on Fonzie. Fonzie is the center of the production. Someone less confident in the role would cause the musical to sag at all the wrong places but, while Sorge won’t make you forget Henry Winkler, he provides the glue that holds the show together.

Paul Williams’ score serves the production well with such songs as “What I Dreamed Last Night,” “Run,” “Ordinary Hero,” and the end of Act I production number, “Heartbeat,” artfully and energetically choreographed by Michele Lynch who makes the Goodspeed stage come alive throughout the show.

Director Gordon Greenberg knows the material he is dealing with borders on fluff, yet he gives the show a light-handed, sprightly feel that captures the essence of Milwaukee in the late 1950’s.

The one stone I’ll throw concerns the need to have some familiarity with the TV show. Without some knowledge of Richie and company “Happy Days” might not be as enjoyable and even a bit puzzling. But I nitpick.

“Happy Days—the Musical,” joyously ensconced at the Goodspeed Opera House thru June 29th.

[Note: “Happy Days” is scheduled to tour around the country beginning in Fall 2008.]