‘Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days...Wednesday, Thursday, Happy Days...!’ I so wanted to enjoy Happy Days the musical, written by Garry Marshall who wrote the original TV series which ran for 10 years from 1974 with its iconic ‘king of cool’ character, the Fonz. The show, like the series, nostalgically conjures up a long-gone era, with its depiction of family life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the late 1950s – a time when youngsters married young and women looked after the house. The wacky producer of the UK tour Amy Anzel caught my interest when she appeared on Channel 4’s The Sound of Musicals documentary series, and was seen ambushing Henry Winkler (the original Fonz) at a book-signing session in a London shopping mall. Winkler is now the creative consultant for the tour, investment for which was secured via a crowd-funding platform. With original songs by Paul Williams in addition to using the popular TV theme, and directed and choreographed by Andrew Wright, the show promised much, but ultimately failed to deliver enough on every level.    

The rather lacklustre storyline centres around the Cunningham family and their friends as they battle to save their beloved diner, Arnold’s, from demolition. We’re introduced to Richie Cunningham (Scott Waugh, who narrates the show in an impressive debut) who is about to graduate from high school and is one quarter of the (underused) male close-harmony group the ‘Dial Tones’. Fonz’s best buddy (an unlikely pairing on the casting here), Richie lives with his sister Joanie and parents, businessman Howard and housewife Marion. However, the story isn’t interesting enough to sustain a two-hour show, as the group organise a dance contest and a wrestling match (with the two oddball Malachi brothers). Ben Freeman’s Fonz is naturally central to this story, and is a likeable character without overdoing his trademark coolness – his great first half finale number ‘Maybe It’s Time To Move On’, when the Fonz leaves town, is a rare dramatic moment in the show that needs to be heightened further. Not enough is made of the love story between the Fonz and Heidi Range’s exotically named Pinky Tuscadero, who are reunited after a much earlier liaison when Pinky returns to town to judge the dance contest. Sugerbabe Range initially sings well – ‘Message in the Music’ is the most catchy of her numbers – though shows signs of voice tiredness in a later scene. Range, however, is no actress and seems to over-pronounce every word, making the character too gruff and offhand to win the audience’s sympathy. It’s left to Cheryl Baker as Mrs Cunningham to provide a character with more depth, as a housewife who wanted more than the demands of the kitchen. Baker is initially nervous but very personable, and really shines in ‘What I Dreamed Last Night’, alongside Emma Harrold as her lovelorn teenage daughter Joanie. She even indulges in a couple of Bucks Fizz related jokes too.  

The score is typically reminiscent of the era with some catchy but ultimately throwaway pop tunes, which need to move the story on more in order to work better. Some scenes and songs were obvious fillers too – the Malachi brothers number, along with an odd number involving James Patterson’s businessman Howard’s determination to win a plaque (!), and a cringe worthy scene involving James Dean and Elvis Presley foremost among them. Wright has choreographed some energetic routines, but some of the dancers looked as if they were just going through the motions, particularly in the baseball number – they need to take a lesson from dancer Lucy Jane Adcock’s Pinkette Tina who really sells the show throughout. There was lack of finesse too in certain aspects of the set (designed as a kind of giant Ikea flat-pack – not quite as bad as it sounds) and in sound and lighting at the performance I attended. The finale, featuring a reprise of some numbers, and yet another rendition of the title tune, is a little superfluous too. But for all its faults – and this does feel like a work still in development – Happy Days is a fairly feel-good musical, reflecting the fashions and morals of the time. It’s an entertaining production but it leaves the audience with only a partially happy day.