Happy Days brings a taste of 50s USA to life

The Tribune (NZ) - - THEATRE -

Happy Days by Garry Mar­shall & Paul Wil­liams Di­rec­tor Chris Bur­ton Mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Paul Dredge Dance di­rec­tor Cara Hes­selin Spiers Cen­tre, March 10 – 19 Re­viewed by Richard Mays

Retro amer­i­cana rules in this lively and colour­ful show. It’s Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin USA, 1959. The kids of Jef­fer­son High are hang­ing-out at Arnold’s car-hop drive-in, which is seem­ingly doomed to be re­de­vel­oped as some­thing called a mall.

Happy Days, the much loved 70s TV sit-com and 50s era nos­tal­gia trip, gets an af­fec­tion­ate re­boot in this 2007 stage mu­si­cal.

It re­unites the whole­some Cun­ning­ham fam­ily – mo­mand dad Howard and Mar­ion, their kids Ritchie and Joanie, friends Ralph Malph, Pot­sie, Chachi, and of course, with the most fa­mous of ’em all, the greaser dude with a ‘‘black belt in cool’’, the one and only Arthur Fonzarelli.

Happy Days is al­most the per­fect show for a high school age cast to be in­volved in. There’s the mu­sic – a combo of croon­ing, bar­ber­shop, doo-wop and early rock’n’roll; the full skirted fash­ion; the dances; the pre-fem­i­nist ‘mom and ap­ple pie’ so­cial mores; the so­cial his­tory (gaso­line is at a high $US0.12 a gal­lon – a gal­lon equals 3.8 litres); the cheesy hu­mour, and the ret­ro­spec­tive irony – in­clud­ing that in the home of Har­ley-David­son The Fonz rides a Tri­umph.

‘Daft’ ideas such as McDon­ald’s and com­put­ers are air­ily dis­missed by the show’s stereo­typ­i­cal char­ac­ters. You can al­most see ex­actly where Back to the Fu­ture came from.

While the kids and the lo­cal Leop­ard Lodge try to save Arnold’s Diner, The Fonz is busy main­tain­ing his own im­age, com­pli­cated by Ritchie’s earnest loy­alty, and the reap­pear­ance of old flame Pinky Tus­cadero.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there’s the in­tru­sion of venge­ful bad-guy Mex­i­can tag-team wrestlers, the Malachi Brothers. Talk about pre-echoes of Don­ald Trump.

All the young ac­tors grew into their roles dur­ing open­ing night, with Bax­ter Perry’s Fonz grad­u­ally as­sert­ing his mojo as the show pro­gressed.

Josiah Nev­ell makes a per­son­able Ritchie shar­ing in some ter­rific four-part har­monies as a mem­ber of bar­ber­shop group The Dialtones along with Kyle Dahl’s Pot­sie, Jojo Medy­ckyj-Scott’s Ralph, and Si­mon Pritchard’s Chachi.

Where else will any­one get to see three great 50s icons Elvis, James Dean and The Fonz on­stage and singing to­gether.

As con­fi­dence lifts, there are promis­ing vo­cals and ex­cel­lent char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions from Amy McLaren as Joanie, Jess Cave as Mar­ion and Emma Dredge as Pinky.

Paul Dredge’s live 10-piece band pro­vides the en­gine for spir­ited dance rou­tines and cho­rus work which puts the frost­ing on the show’s over­all look and flavour.

And where else will any­one get to see three great 50s icons Elvis, James Dean and The Fonz on­stage and singing to­gether.

Spir­ited dance rou­tines and cho­rus work are a fea­ture of Happy Days.

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