Happy Days

by Tom Holehan

New musicals are in short supply on Broadway this season but, in our own backyard, two relatively new musicals are being produced at venues in East Haddam and Bridgeport. It’s doubtful either of these shows will find its way to the Big Apple any time soon, but local theatergoers could find worse ways to kill a few hours.

Fans of the popular 1974-84 television series “Happy Days” will find familiar faces in the new musical currently on stage at the Goodspeed Opera House. With a book by the TV show’s creator, Garry Marshall, and original music and lyrics by Paul Williams, “Happy Days”, the musical, is basically an elongated episode of the television series as it tackles the earth-shaken problems of a group of Milwaukee teenagers circa 1959. In this family-friendly version of “Grease”, gas prices are at 12 cents a gallon, Wonder Bread with mayo is the sandwich of choice and poodle skirts and bad boys on motorcycles are all the rage. The “crisis” at the center of “Happy Days” is the potential closing of Arnold’s Drive-In, the town’s beloved local hangout. Three guesses as to whether Arnold’s gets bulldozed by curtain.

The new musical is expertly staged by Gordon Greenberg with roof-raising choreography by Michele Lynch who whips her exuberant young cast into a frenzy about every ten minutes or so. The beloved characters of Richie, Fonzie, Potsie, Ralph and Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham (an especially good Cynthia Ferrer) are all there in a musical that has the substance and nutritional value of cotton candy. I can’t say I was bored but I did have trouble recalling any of it twenty minutes after it concluded. It’s a peppy entertainment, great for families and done as well as one expects by the pros at Goodspeed. But, in the end, “Happy Days” might best be served in years to come as a staple for high school drama clubs.

“Happy Days” is scheduled through June 29 at East Haddam’s Goodspeed Opera House. Tickets are available by calling 860.873.8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.

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