Leading West End performer Ben Freeman, currently appearing as Fiyero in Wicked, has been cast in the iconic role of the Fonz in the forthcoming Happy Days musical.The show, based on the US TV series, is to tour the UK next year, with Freeman taking on the character made famous by Henry Winkler. Freeman is a former Emmerdale actor and his stage credits also include the London productions of Dreamboats and Petticoats and Legally Blonde, in which he played Warner.
In the musical Freeman will be joined by former Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker, who is to play Mrs Cunningham, and the previously announced Heidi Range, who is lined up to appear as Pinky Tuscadero. Baker previously appeared in Footloose in the West End.
Producer Amy Anzel said Freeman had been cast after a “challenging” audition process.
“We saw everyone. And even in the audition, the only person who could do everything convincingly – sing, dance, act and be cool, even though that sounds cheesy – was Ben,” she said.
Speaking about Baker’s casting, Anzel added: “Cheryl is naturally maternal and warm, and that is exactly what Mrs Cunningham is.”
Happy Days will be directed by Andrew Wright, who choreographed the Chichester Festival Theatre productions of Barnum and Singin’ in the Rain. It is being produced by Anzel for Sunday Monday Ltd, with Anne Vosser as its casting director.
Last month, the team held an open audition for the musical, from which Scott Waugh has been cast as Richie Cunningham.
Anzel said: “He just was Richie Cunningham. We said from the very beginning that all the people cast have to somehow remind the audience of the characters from the TV show, and something about Scott was so Ron Howard. He didn’t have to try, he just was.”
Other performers in the cast include Lucy-Jane Adcock, Charlie Allen, Ray Gardner, Henry Davis, Edwin Ray and Sam Robinson.
Happy Days is written by Garry Marshall, who created the original television series. It features 21 musical numbers penned by Paul Williams, who worked on the film of Bugsy Malone and whose song writing credits include We’ve Only Just Begun, Evergreen and Rainy Days and Mondays. The Happy Days theme tune will also appear in the musical. Winkler is acting as creative consultant on the show.
The production has musical arrangements by John McDaniel, production design by Tom Rogers, sound design by Ben Harrison and lighting design by Philip Gladwell.
It will open at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on January 14 next year, before embarking on a national tour. This will include venues in Brighton, Hull, Dublin, Sheffield, Woking and Cambridge.
The show is produced in association with Todd Ruppert of RTR International.
The Stage will have an exclusive interview with Ben Freeman about playing the Fonz in a forthcoming edition.