10-14 June 2014
Reviewed by Joanne Watson
I have very fond memories of ‘Happy Days’ – it was an evening ritual for me growing up, to watch Happy Days after tea! When I heard that it was being made in to a musical, I will admit, I had my doubts. Would it be possible to recreate the magic of Happy Days on the stage?
Well the answer is undoubtedly yes! I was extremely impressed with the whole production, from start to finish.
The story is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1959.The majority of the action takes place at Arnold’s Diner, with other scenes taking place outside the diner, outside Fonzie’s house, at the garage, in the park and in the Cunningham’s house. Arnold’s Diner is under threat of closure due to developers trying to buy the land it is on. Richie Cunningham and his friends try to come up with a plan to save the day by raising money through holding a dance competition, a picnic and a wrestling match. The story is simple but it does the job, and is held together by a range of catchy new songs.
The casting director would have had a tough job on their hands, as the ‘Happy Days’ characters are so well known, but in my opinion, the casting choices were spot on. Perhaps the most difficult role to fill was Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, but the ex-Emmerdale actor Ben Freeman was a wonderful choice. He had the mannerisms down to a tee with his cool swagger, and he even mastered Fonzie’s catchphrase – “heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” I am always dubious about Brits putting on an American accent too, but his was great and the other surprise was that he had a lovely singing voice too!
Best known as a Sugababe, the beautiful Heidi Range was an excellent choice as Fonzie’s love interest Pinky Tuscadero. Her pop background meant she was another strong vocalist. She had a range of stunning 50’s inspired outfits and carried the look well. Again her accent suited the role perfectly and she had the strut to go with it.
Cheryl Baker was another fabulous casting as Marion Cunningham. Although she wasn’t on stage as often as I’d have liked, she emulated ‘Mrs Cunningham’ to a T! I also appreciated the ‘Making your mind up’ and ‘Bucks Fizz’ references, as did the rest of the audience. Everyone cheered when these references were made.
But perhaps the best character in the show, in my opinion, was James Paterson as Howard Cunningham. He not only looked the part; the way he spoke, the way he carried himself and the way he reacted to others was flawless! The scene in the ‘Lodge’ was probably the best of the night, having the audience its fits of laughter.
The other cast members did a fabulous job also. I thought all the American accents were flawless, and every member of the cast could sing and dance extremely well.
Another scene worth mentioning is the wrestling match between the Fonz and the Milachi brothers. The scene is acted in slow motion and is extremely clever and funny. The Fonz radiated ‘coolness’!
The folding set, which transformed time and again to depict Arnold’s diner, the Cunningham’s kitchen, Bronko’s garage, Franklin Park and more, was outstanding. It all looked very authentic and oozed 50’s style and charm. There were a few ‘technical hitches’ where the scenery didn’t unfold quite as it should have, and didn’t join together as expected, but the professionalism of the actors meant the show carried on regardless while the set was fixed.
The highlight of the night had to be when the cast sang the ‘Happy Days’ theme tune. The actors looked so happy and enthusiastic and there were smiles all around the room.
The musical is light-hearted, fun, family entertainment and it doesn’t claim to be anything more. If you are after intellectual stimulation, then this probably isn’t the show for you. But if you are after a fun night out filled with catchy tunes, fabulous dancing routines and lots of laugh, then I couldn’t recommend it any higher.
Tickets cost from £23.50 to £32.50.
Happy Days is at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until 14 June 2014. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 01902 429212.
The Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1DE