"Happy Days"

by Irene Backalenick

It is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1959, a time when cool girls wore swishy skirts, bobby socks, and saddleback shoes, and cool boys combed their slicked-back hair. The dark days were yet to come.

Goodspeed Musicals has returned to that innocent era, with its current exuberant show, based on the old television series “Happy Days.” (The hero Fonzie at that time was played by Henry Winkler, a show which sent him on to stardom.)

This “Happy Days” is a musical version, with book by Garry Marshall and music and lyrics by Paul Williams. It is a high-energy piece, thanks to a hard-working, high-stepping company, a show that engulfs the audience in excitement. No matter that the Paul Williams tunes are ho-hum (with a few exceptions), that the story is trivial. The audience is forgiving and finds it good fun.

The story focuses on life at the Cunninghams (Mom and Dad Marion and Howard, and their children Richie and Joanie). Every one hangs out at their house, or Arnold’s, the local coffee shop. The plot, such as it is, deals with rescuing Arnold’s from foreclosure, a feat managed by a dance contest and wrestling match. Richie, in the capable hands of Rory O’Malley, serves as narrator.

Highlights of the show are two dance numbers—first, the dance contest itself, and secondly, Marion and housewife friends, with their baked pies held aloft, in a tap dance routine. But it is Sandra DeNise, who truly makes the show sizzle. Playing Pinky Trocadero (Fonzie’s true love), she brings the show to a new level from the moment she comes on stage--blonde curls, skin-tight slacks and all. DeNise has the best singing voice in the show—and a body to match. Joey Sorge playing Fonzie, has every movement and stance just right, but sadly lacks the singing voice to carry the role. A Rex Harrison-type delivery just does not compute. The capable supporting cast includes a perky Savannah Wise as Joanie, an amiable Kevin Carolan as Howard, and Cynthia Ferrer, as an endearing, poignant Marion.

All told, this competent cast turns a mediocre piece into solid entertainment. But then Goodspeed Musicals is never a wasted visit. Between acts, seated on the terrace overlooking the Connecticut River, savoring the view and the ambience, one discovers that “Happy Days” indeed makes for a very happy day.

(This review appears in the Connecticut Post and nytheaterscene.com)

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