HAPPY DAYS – the Musical at SHEFFIELD LYCEUM
With happy nostalgia on offer for Fonzie fans and flamboyant, frivolous fun for young and old alike, the Happy Days musical does its job. In a whirl of bright, sunny sets and colourful, constantly changing costumes, Howard and Marion Cunningham, son Richie, daughter Joanie, surrogate son Arthur Fonzarelli and the rest of the high-school gang are back to entertain.
Set in the rockin’, rollin, jivin’ 1950s, the hit TV series ran from 1974 to 1984, created by Garry Marshall who also wrote the ‘book’ for this stage show. It’s hardly a well crafted gem, with a dancing competition, mock wrestling match, cameos of Elvis and James Dean, the secret yearnings of a frustrated, perfect housewife, a large motor bike and various strands of romance all tossed into a flimsy, fragmented story of the gang’s attempts to save Arnold’s Diner from becoming a car park for the first new fangled shopping mall in Milwaukee. At times, it feels, indeed, more like watching TV than a stage show, especially when rapid-fire dialogue gets trapped in the onstage area. Yet, along the way, the show does spring to life.
Sugarbabe Heidi Range’s super singing and commanding presence sparkle (along with her more tangible assets) as sex kitten Pinky Tuscadero, while her four energetic, talented Pinkettes dance their hearts out in swirls of thighs, knickers, twirling skirts and coloured pumps, and The Dial Tones provide pleasant harmony.
Through gentle humour, James Peterson and Cheryl Baker engage nicely with the audience as Mr and Mrs Cunningham, and Andrew Waldron has his funny moments too as Ralphie, but, in spite of leather jacket, extended thumbs and famous aaayy! Ben Freeman’s Fonz seems to lack sufficient self-belief in his own strut and swagger to properly connect or bring a real sense of cool charisma. And the tough, nasty Malachi brothers could benefit from some serious pantomime melodrama to have them actually seem tough and nasty.
Impact comes from scenes of quirkier innovation, and some 1950’s ads and jingles before the show also prove entertaining. While the growling, pawing Leopard Lodge gents bring laughter, Mrs Cunningham’s unexpected longing to be liberated from her happy, shining kitchen and endless pie-making is revealed in What I Dreamed last Night, a poignant, well sung duet with daughter Joanie (Emma Harrold). Maybe she’ll eventually rip off her skirt in celebratory Buck’s Fizz style, because what this woman can achieve with a bit of food colouring is nothing short of miraculous! As multi-coloured dusters, brooms, pipes and plungers hit the stage, we witness a triumph in choreographed hardware.
To an encore of the Happy Days theme song, by far the catchiest number in the show, smiles spread as all are encouraged to rise to their feet, most having had a happy night out.
Eileen Caiger Gray
The Show tours nationally right through till June.