Currently, it seems that only juke box musicals acquire any great success so it is always refreshing when any new musical makes it to the stage. Based on the popular 1970s sitcom, Happy Days- A New Musical is making its debut on a UK tour and features the sitcom’s most beloved characters, that catchy theme tune and a whole load of 1950s flare. Although the show attempts to recreate the hype around the successful sitcom and the good-time feeling of the era, sadly, it really fails to wow.
Photo: Theatre Royal Norwich
The bright and colourful costumes accompanied by the stylish and beautiful hair and make-up of each performer are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the show. Designer, Tom Rogers, deserves a great deal of credit for his efforts in this production as it is the set and costume which really holds much of the responsibility of the successful recreation of the wholesome, gleaming and rock’n’rollin 1950s fun.
The young supporting cast give a first-rate and enthusiastic effort with Ben Freeman in the lead as Arthur ‘The Fonz’ Fonzarelli. Loveable Freeman offers an entertaining rendition of this iconic character complete with his signature thumbs up, however, it is difficult to believe that anyone other than Henry Winkler can really become the Fonz. His love interest, Pinky Tuscadero is played by former Sugababe Heidi Range who, again, provides and amusing version of the role despite her character being a little two dimensional.
It is the story, however, which extinguishes any real hope of this new musical becoming a big hit as it is frequently chaotic, messy and bewildering. Many questions are left unanswered, though they were never truly posed as the audience can be found asking ‘why?’ a little too often. For example, there is an entire dance sequence with basketballs but no real reference to what these non-sporty young men are doing with them. Too many times it seems too obvious that the plot has been shaped simply to squeeze in an extra song. In addition, there is a real absence of a big climax and the audience suffer from a severe lack of care and interest in the once much-loved characters. It was often too juvenile and silly, sometimes creating a sense of a children’s pantomime rather than a popular musical. Sadly, the songs, written by Paul Williams, do little to save the poor narrative with only the already popular Happy Days theme tune getting any feet tapping.
It is safe to say that those too young to be truly familiar with the 1970s sitcom would feel relatively alienated by this production as there is certainly an assumed knowledge about each of the characters. Without this information, many jokes, names and themes become lost making a younger audience feel quite puzzled about who these people are, where they have come from and why they are acting like that.
It seems that the triumphs, characters and feel of the 1970s sitcom simply do not transfer well to the stage, despite the production team’s best efforts. The show is entertaining, quite enjoyable and fairly satisfying but sadly it fails to hit the spot.