Not one of the best of days

cast of happy days

The whole cast come together to try to save Arnold's diner. Pictures: Paul Coltas

Happy Days

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

***

HAPPY Days - the musical is based on the American television sitcom of the same name. It ran for ten years from 1974 and this somewhat cartoon and imagined vision of USA in 1950s became one of the most successful TV shows of the 1970s.

Now 20 years later the musical, written by the series original creator Gary Marshall, does its best to recreate the chemistry of that success but simply fails.

If this had made it on to the screen back in the 80s it would have been at best passable as a story but as a big show live resurrection of the brand and the spirit of the rock and roll era, then the story and music falls far short of the potential it could have easily had.

Arnolds the Diner is central to the Happy Days crew and when it’s threatened with closure, needing funds to avoid the inevitable, the answer is to raise funds via a wrestling match. This is to be between the very cool Fonz (Ben Freeman), now sporting an uncool bad knee and his two former childhood bullies the Malachi’s. Add to this Pinky (Heidi Range), a former love, who returns in time to see this all go down and a few other minor character developments that seem incidental to it all.

However the great cast worked hard to breathe life into every moment of this rather flat series of cameos and the show does have a few good moments but those however failed to make a whole.

What is forgettable is the music. The one time award winning composer Paul Williams simply fails to create one memorable song in the whole evening. Instead we have a series of ` do wop’ pastiches that lyrically were hard to hear or understand. There was one exception for short moment when former Buck Fizz member Cheryl Baker who plays Mrs Cunningham, was given the chance singing What I dreamt last night, and sounded great for around a minute only to have the remainder of the song finished by another character.

Ex Sugar Babes member Heidi Range as Pinky also delivered a couple of nice melodies showing that she really can sing, but again these were fleeting.

Thankfully the Happy Days theme song written by Gimble and Fox which remains an uplifting melody gave the evening some degree of authenticity, being used in the open Number arranged into a couple of other songs  and as a hand clapping close.

There were also some curious staging moments too where a small opening in the curtain was used a several key points as a porthole to view the narrow the stage action. This effectively meant that for anyone not sitting directly in front of or above the curtain gap could simply not see fully what was going on, on stage. Sound designer Ben Harrison created a great live sound and one of the best I have heard and the choreography by Andrew Wright was also well designed and performed.

It seems a real missed opportunity to have not built a better vehicle to resurrect the Happy Days brand than this. Whilst it’s all moderately good fun and a reasonable evening’s entertainment it pales into insignificance when compared to the several other touring’s musicals that are set in the 1950s that feature the original music of that era. To 14-06-14  

Jeff Grant

10-06-14

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