This week HAPPY DAYS – A New Musical is showing at Bristol Hippodrome.
I went to watch this production with fond memories of the TV show, which originally aired between 1974 and 1984. My children had no knowledge of either the programme or the music and therefore had no particular expectations.
The story is about 1950s family, the Cunninghams and the rest of the gang – Potsie, Ralph Malph, Joanie and Chachi as they battle to save their beloved diner Arnold’s from demolition. In a race against time, can ‘The Fonz’ save the day?
The main character, and all round cool dude, Arthur ‘The Fonz’ Fonzarelli is played by West End leading man and “Emmerdale” star, Ben Freeman.
Cheryl Baker (who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 as a member of the pop group Bucks Fizz) is ‘Mrs Cunningham’.
Heidi Range of Sugababes fame is ‘Pinky Tuscadero’.
HENRY WINKLER, the original Fonz from the television series, is Creative Consultant (no doubt teasing out just the right level of cool from this latest Fonz and the rest of the cast!)
Like the TV programme, much of the show takes place in Arnold’s diner, but various slick scene changes transport us to other locations including Bronko’s Garage and the Cunningham’s house. These transformations are really cleverly done and keep the set interesting.
My favourite character is Mrs Cunningham, who is portrayed as a typically domesticated, but disgruntled woman of that time. Her main purpose in life seems to be cooking for her family and when she asks Harold if she can come and help out at his business, his response is predictably patronising. Joanie and Mrs Cunningham perform a great duet bemoaning a woman’s role (which includes a nod to can you guess which famous Bucks Fizz moment?!) Marion Cunningham has her day though, as her ‘innovative’ business ideas lead to a boost in sales of Harold’s hardware products later in the show.
Ralf and Chachi were played very convincingly and were immediately recognisable from the original show, but I didn’t feel any particular connection to many of the characters and so didn’t really become engrossed in the story.
Some of the new music was quite catchy and of course the much-loved Happy Days theme tune from the TV show was a favourite with the audience. There was beautiful singing too – I particularly liked Pinky Tuscadero’s voice. There was also interesting music of the period with which my young boys are not familiar, like “Romeo Midnight” performed in the Cunninghams’ back yard by the young barber shop group, The Dial-Tones.
Overall I enjoyed listening to some great musical performances and watching some energetic dancing, but I didn’t really empathise with the characters and I feel I wasn’t the ideal audience for this show.
I wasn’t expecting Happy Days to have been much of a hit with my 10 and 7 year old but actually I was mistaken, which goes to show how dangerous it can be to second guess other people’s opinions! The boys enjoyed hearing the unfamiliar music and let’s face it, a lot of the music they hear in shows, which is so familiar to us, is quite new to them.
The thing that absolutely wowed them though was the acrobatic energy of rock and roll dancing. They really hadn’t seen anything like its lifts, jumps, throws and kicks before.
“It was amazing how they were doing somersaults, when the men and women were dancing together”
So a pleasant enough night out for me and a big thumbs up from the kids!