Happy Days brings a taste of 50s USA to life
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.