Friday, 17 January 2014

Review: Happy Days - A New Musical at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Review: Happy Days - A New Musical at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley

News Shopper: Picture by Paul ColtasPicture by Paul Coltas

News Shopper: Picture by Paul Coltas

GOODBYE grey skies, hello blue – Happy Days has been brightening people’s days since 1974.
And rather than bleeding that goodwill dry, A New Musical feeds it with a show that’s as fulfilling as one of Arnold’s thick shakes.
The feel- good show - written by the show’s creator Garry Marshall with original music by Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe winner Paul Williams – debuted at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley this week ahead of a full UK tour.
I’m struggling to find a way to describe exactly how this latest incarnation made me feel.
My mind keeps going back to the food fight scene in the film Hook when Robin Williams reconnects with his childhood and, with the broadest grin imaginable, finally sees the joy of the colourful feast; it is a gleeful release.
The show always tapped into innocent, all-American nostalgia, but live and with the bombast of an uplifting score it is even more vivid.
Reborn as a stage show for the second time, the iconic cast of loveable characters has been reincarnated and there are even a couple of lesser known characters who you’ll love.
The phrase ‘very much in the spirit of the original’ is all too often a euphemism for ‘very much a pale imitation of the original’ but, I’m pleased to say that’s not the case here.

There are little romances for Fonzie, Chachi, Richie and the female characters’ struggle to break the chains of a patriarchal society (albeit in a cutesy 1950s way).
Often revivals of popular shows with well-loved characters - whether on the stage or the big screen – can get lazy in terms of narrative and while a scheme to save Arnold’s diner from closure is not groundbreaking, there is sufficient nuance to keep the story rollicking along.
The dialogue is sharp and director Andrew Wright keeps the play bursting with life.
Of course, at the top of the list of loveable characters, of course, is The Fonz. If ever there was a potential banana skin for an actor, then this is it.
It is a shame that the production team didn’t link up with the Beeb for a show – How do you solve a problem like Fonzarelli? would surely be a ratings winner.
I’ll admit I was concerned for Emmerdale’s Ben Freeman, who had to step into the hallowed leather jacket.
So ingrained is The Fonz in popular culture that it is possible to imagine even Henry Winkler in his prime would be able to live up to expectations, and his appearance – which basically consisted of a cartoonish swagger and an ‘eyyyy’ – contained little to give me confidence.
But it didn’t take him long to win me over. His swagger, attitude and delivery were spot on. Great voice too – he nailed it.
One of the lesser known characters who takes a leading role here, is Pinky Tuscadero, played by lovely Sugababe Heidi Range.
It sounds churlish saying this about woman who has made a living from her voice for more than a decade, but Heidi can really belt out a tune. She was sufficiently starry to work as the Fonz’s love interest too.
While we’re talking about the cast – a big mention to Cheryl Baker. She is marvellous at Mrs Cunningham and provides some of the show’s most memorable moments, most of them laugh out loud funny.
When the Fonz jumped the shark nearly 40 years ago, the moment became a signpost that a show is in decline but from what I saw yesterday there’s plenty of life left in the old dog.
Happy Days is at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, until January 18 and The Orchard Theatre, Dartford from May 19 to 24. Go or

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