Chachi (Mike D'Amico) , Ralph (Schyler Conaway), Fonzie (Nick
Varricchio), Richie ( Herb Porter), Potsie (Michael
Linden), photos by John Vecchiolla
By Ed Lieberman
Broadway Theatre’s latest offering, Happy Days, A New Musical, based upon the
popular 1974-84 TV series set in the 1950’s, begins with a beautiful tableau,
featuring the cast in a frozen lindy hop, while Richie Cunningham, played by
Herb Porter, sets the narrative. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, the
players had to get on with the show, which largely went downhill from there.
show is essentially an extended episode of the sitcom, although with the impression
that it takes place at or near the end of the series: Arnold’s, the malt shop
hangout of Arthur Fonzarelli (known to all as “the Fonz”), Richie Cunningham,
his friends Ralph and Potsie, and all Jefferson High students, is facing demolition
by a developer intent upon building something called a “mall.” A last-ditch
effort to save the place is devised to raise funds so that Arnold can outbid
the developer for the property. The kids arrange a dance party, with prizes
from Mr. Cunningham’s hardware store; Mrs. C bakes pies; and Pinky Tuscadero,
an old flame of the Fonz, comes back to town for the festivities (and to
reconnect with Fonzie). But despite their best efforts, the funds come up
short, so Arnold’s last chance is a wrestling match between the Fonz and two
minor characters from the show’s past: the over-the-top wrestling Malachi
Brothers. What no one knows except Richie is that Fonzie has a bum knee that
can be permanently injured if he wrestles (apparently no one in this town is aware
that wrestling is scripted). Fonzie has an uncharacteristic crisis in
confidence and disappears. Richie and Ralph reluctantly (very reluctantly)
volunteer to take his place. Of course, in the end -- after the match begins --
Fonzie comes back and saves the day.
Fonzie and the Town Girls (left to right): Aubrey Mae Davis,
Hannah Kate Wilson, Nick Varricchio, Samantha Gardner, Colleen Campbell.
cast was likeable, and did what they could with what they were given. Two
standout performances were by Maria Logan, as Pinky Tuscadero, and Nick
Varricchio, as the Fonz. Ms. Logan captures the sexy biker babe essence of her
character and the two of them recapture the romantic flame that previously
existed between their characters. Other outstanding performances were turned in
Nicholas Park and Ian Parmenter, as the Milachi Brothers. The costumes, by
Janelle Berte (and wig/hair design by Gerard Kelly) were spot on, with the guys
wearing rolled up jeans, the gals wearing crinolines, bobby sox and saddle shoes.
Next to them, the spectacular short shorts, bare midriff and fringe jacket worn
by Pinky would have stood out even without lighting (by WBT regular Andrew
Gmoser). With the exception of the wrestling match, the choreography, by
Director/Choreographer Jonathan Stahl, captured the nostalgic 1950’s dances of
the show’s setting. The sets, by Steve Loftus, were also true to the sitcom,
using the now familiar jukebox (no doubt recycled from the recent production of
Always, Patsy Cline) and booths to recreate Arnold’s. Unfortunately, the sound
was uneven; much of the dialogue by Richie and other characters was garbled,
and the orchestra often overpowered the singers, rendering the lyrics in the
musical numbers unintelligible.
mentioned, the cast was not given much to work with here, which is probably why
the show has never had a Broadway or off-Broadway run. Despite having been
written by Garry Marshall, who created the series, the plot does not ring true
for those familiar with the sitcom: Fonzie’s appeal was always that he could
accomplish anything just by snapping his fingers. He never had to actually do
anything. That he would actually wrestle anyone, much less” professional”
wrestlers, would never have made it into the TV series. And the choreography of
the wrestling match was amateurish (a strobe light would have been useful
here). Likewise, the score, by Paul Williams, is largely forgettable. Indeed,
WBT’s publicity compares the show with Grease, which was set in approximately
the same time period. The comparison, however, is not favorable to this show.
Grease had memorable music, and it had the advantage of not having to deal with
characters well known to its audience. With knowledge and familiarity comes
said that, there was some interesting social commentary thrown in to make the
show more relevant for today’s audiences. At one point the Cunninghams were
leaving the house and everyone was saying what they were going to be doing that
day, to which Mrs. Cunningham says: “Starting dinner.” Later, however, she says
that her apron strings felt like chains, and at the end of the show, she offers
to help out at Mr. C’s store, and comes up with a marketing idea: different
colored . . . plungers!
Days, A New Musical, will be running at the Theatre, through July 17th.
Performances are Thursday-Sunday, with matinees Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
is at 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, NY.
Box Office: (914) 592-2268. www.broadwaytheatre.com.