"Happy Days"

by Rosalind Friedman

In the late 1950’s—during the infancy of TV—the series, “Happy Days,” which took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, captivated families every week. We all fell in love with a newcomer, Henry Winkler, who was the star, playing Arthur Fonzarella—fondly known as “The Fonz” or “Fonzie,” a tough street kid with a heart. Slicked-back black hair, oodles of cool confidence and Chutzpah, he is adopted by the perfect Cunningham family; with a snap of a finger, he manages to mesmerize all the girls, and is adored by all the guys. Now this story has been transferred to the stage as a new musical with a Book by Gary Marshall, who created the original TV show; Paul Williams has written the Music and Lyrics. They are experienced showmen, so we expect at the very least a slick product.

There are many things to like about this fast-paced and entertaining production directed by Gordon Greenberg. The actors do well, mimicking the characters whom we remember, singing and dancing as well. Joey Sorge as The Fonz, who is not a worrier, but a warrior, and is never wrong, looks and is the part; Sandra DeNise is one hot Pinky, Fonzi’s love interest; Savanna Wise is a perky Joanie, and Kevin Carolan is endearing as her father, Howard. At the Saturday Matinee, on May 10, David Larsen stepped up to the plate for Rory O’Malley, and was charming as Richie Cunningham, who serves a narrator for the musical. The Choreography by Michele Lynch is wonderful—Stanley Bahorek as Ralph does a roll across the stage under the feet of cast members that is quite a feat. A beautiful actress, Cynthia Ferrer, as Marion, the mother of all mothers, taps away in a pie sequence that is fun—but she is hard to hear in her important solo, “What I Dreamed Last Night.” Marion dreams of being more than a meal-provider. She has creative ideas that her husband does not appreciate. Pinky, a singer, has dreams of getting off the road and putting on the apron that Marion would like to shed.

The problem lies in the fact that the theme song, “Happy Days,” from the TV show, is still the best and most memorable song in the show; it was not written by Williams, but by Charles Fox-music- and Norman Gimbel-lyrics, both of whom can boast impressive credits for their work. Williams has integrated the song into the new musical, and whenever it peeks and pops through, “Happy Days,” the show, takes on a spirit it does not generally have. Technically, the production has a skimpy look. Everything takes place at Arnold’s, the local jukebox hangout. Those were innocent times, which preceded computers, IPods, tattoos and drugs. We can’t bring back those days-but it’s fun to go back for an hour or two. Happy Days, a new musical, will play at Goodpseed Opera House in East Haddam through June 29.

(This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio)

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