Happy Days Musical

If you caught Channel 4’s The Sound of Musicals documentary recently, then you’ll know the struggles that producer Amy Anzel fought against to get this new musical to the stage. But, after four years of hard work, Happy Days premieres in Bromley’s Churchill Theatre before embarking on a UK Tour.

Having not even been born when the original TV show aired in 1974, I was worried that I might have some catching up to do with the show’s characters (except the Fonz – everyone knows the Fonz!) but the show takes that into consideration. Although it starts off slowly – with not the most enticing of songs – by the end, the audience was dancing along to the famous theme tune of the same name.

Richie Cunningham (an energetic Scott Waugh) opens the show with an introduction to his world: his parents, girlfriend, singing group and friends, and their American diner hang-out – Arnold’s. It is soon made obvious that its owner is fighting a company that wants to buy it, and so together with the help of the Leopard Lodge, of which Richie’s father is a member, the community pulls together to stage a dance contest and a wrestling match to raise money and keep Arnold’s open. Gary Marshall, the original creator of Happy Days, has created a script where the initial few scenes struggle to pull its audience along at a decent pace, but this is rectified halfway through the first act.

Ben Freeman as Arthur Fonzarelli has the audience on his side from the moment he walks on stage. Possessing his trademark finger snaps and undoubted coolness, Freeman captures the true essence of the Fonz from start to finish. Heidi Range, formerly of girl band Sugababes, also puts in a sleek, sexy performance as Pinky Tuscadero, leading the way for the independent women of the 50s. My favourite character of the show is played by Cheryl Baker, famous for being in  the pop group Bucks Fizz, winners of the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest. Her role as Marion Cunningham, the oppressed housewife, is much overplayed in the show, but becomes the underdog that everyone roots for as she sings ‘What I Dreamed Last Night’. This moment is where the musical really begins to kick it up a notch as the audience finally has someone to root for.

The songs (written by Paul Williams) are all in keeping with the 50s pop period – some catchier than others – but nothing beats the best-loved original theme tune, which tops off a hybrid of the evening’s catalogue in the energetic finale.

Most of the evening’s highlights come from the second act, including a song featuring an imagined Elvis (Sam Robinson) and James Dean (Henry Davis), a wrestling match which the Fonz wins with just his thumbs, and a trio number between Pinky, Marion and Richie’s sister, Joanie. A set design by Tom Rogers (which seemed to befuddle the company in a few small moments), lighting design by Philip Gladwell, and the bouncy, enthusiastic choreography by first- time director Andrew Wright helped to top the evening off.

The show is slow in getting to the core of the story, and certain songs make you think the show is directed one way but it veers off on a different path. It is also jam packed full of references to the TV show – I suspect most lovingly added by creative consultant and original Fonzarelli, Henry Winkler. Overall, the new musical is a fun night out at the theatre for all ages. On that note alone, it gets two of the Fonz’s famous thumbs up from me!

Happy Days is playing The Churchill Theatre, Bromley until 18 January, before embarking on a UK Tour. For more information and tickets see the Happy Days Musical website.