Happy Days

Happy Days

Happy Days 2011 ABook by Garry Marshall
Music and lyrics by Paul Williams
Directed and choreographed by David Connolly
Musical direction by Anthony Bastionon
Performed by Jake Simons et al.
Stage West, Mississauga
February 18 to April 24, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Sunday, Monday, Happy Days

The musical Happy Days, now playing at Mississauga’s Stage West, is almost a carbon copy of the TV show that ran from 1974 to 1984. Set in Milwaukee in the fifties, the show features the Cunningham family – Howard, Marion, Richie and Joanie; Richie’s buddies Potsie and Ralph; Chachi who’s sweet on Joanie; and the Cunninghams’almost-son Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli. The show, like the TV series, doesn’t take itself seriously – in fact, the laughs come at the show’s expense: the characters poke fun at the Happy Days franchise.

Despite its longevity on TV, Happy Days had the reputation of taking a turn for the worse. The popular show went over the top in an episode where Fonzie goes waterskiing in his bathing suit and leather jacket and jumps over a shark. “Jumped the Shark” is the catchphrase to describe a show that becomes absurd with implausible characterization.

The musical Happy Days almost jumps the shark, but survives by laughing at itself. In fact, at one point, the characters are worried about Fonzie, and the comment is made “Fonzie hasn’t been the same since he jumped the shark.”

Similarly, comedy is created by anachronistic humour, making fun of life in the fifties: the good old days were never that good. When Joanie wants a car, her father says that gas is too expensive. Her mother responds that with gas as high as 12 cents a gallon, the price couldn’t go any higher.

Happy Days is well-cast, looking much like the original TV characters. Jake Simons is excellent as the super cool Fonzie, and Gabriel Antonacci has Richie’s earnest attitude down pat. Jordan Bell supplies the comedy as Ralph Malph, while Joanie (Judy Kovacs) and Chachi (Bryan Hindle) are adorable. Even as she serves apple pie, Rennie Wilkinson as Marion amazes the audience with her high kicks and tap dancing.

The choreography is lively, infused with fifties jive dancing. The dance team has great energy, and the opening night audience gasped at some of the moves.

Highlights of the show include the Quartet – Richie (Gabriel Antonacci), Ralph (Jordan Bell), Potsie (Aaron Kyte) and Chachi (Bryan Hindle) have formed an a cappella singing group called the Dial Tones. The four voices harmonize well, and they have all the appropriate moves, including dialing a phone.

In another entertaining scene, Fonzie is visited by his guiding ghosts:  Both Elvis and James Dean, the ultimate of cool, come back to see The Fonz. Chad McNamara is hilarious in both roles, but you’ll have to see it, to believe how he does it.

There are a couple of issues that could be corrected to make this show more enjoyable. The fog machine creates too much haze: it’s not a rock concert and characters shouldn’t be lost in the smoke. Also, at times the music is too loud and drowns out the singers, making it impossible to hear lyrics.

But despite these concerns, Happy Days is fun, family entertainment, and Stage West offers friendly hospitality for a weekend get-away. The buffet dinner is delicious, and breakfast the next morning is also included.

Happy Days continues in dinner theatre at Stage West, Mississauga until April 24. For tickets, including dinner or Sunday brunch, and hotel room packages, contact 1-800-263-0684 or www.stagewest.com

(To read my 2009 review of the Broadway tour of Happy Days, just type the words Happy Days in the Search option.)

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