Happy Days- A New Musical at the WBT: Theatre Review

Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 By: William Joseph Reynolds Source: The Gazette

Garry Marshall, the creator of the iconic television situation-comedy, Happy Days, has gifted us with a musical version of the classic television series that ran for 11 seasons on ABC-TV from 1974-1985. All of the beloved characters (the Cunninghams, Ralph, Potsie, Arnold, Chachi and, of course, Fonzie) have returned to pay homage to the bygone era of the 1950s.

The book does not miss a beat and brings us back to the year 1959. Richie Cunningham is set to graduate from high school and go off to college, determined to shed Hometown, USA, in this case, Milwaukee, and take on the world.

But before Richie dons his cap and gown, there is one more job for him and the gang to do, and that is to save their favorite eatery, Arnold’s, from being bulldozed and turned into a shopping mall.

The songs, throughout the show, convey the passions and uncertainty that all young people face at that pivotal movement in their lives. And, inevitably, they are drawn to the same conclusion: Love, fulfillment of purpose, and the ability to reach out and help those around them. It is not done in a preaching sort of way, but in the unique style of these classic characters.

They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But while the director’s (Jonathan Stahl) intentions, and admonitions to the cast, were not to do mere impersonations of the characters, but to make them their own with new breath and new life. The multi-talented cast, headed by Herb Porter (Richie), Nick Varrricchio (Fonzie), and Lori Hammel (Marion), have done just that.

The acclaimed composer, songwriter, and singer Paul Williams’ music vividly conveys these character’s feelings. From Richie’s determination to meet the world head on, tough guy Fonzie facing his own vulnerabilities, to Marian’s emptiness at being ‘just a housewife’ are but some of the songs that are presented.

Kudos must be given to Varricchio (Fonzie) and Maria Logan (Pinky), as they transition from their tough, hard as nails images and re-examine who they are and what their needs are. The most delightful surprise of the evening was from Nicholas Park and Ian Parmenter, who play Jumpy and Myron Malachi. They, truly, brought down the house, and I will say no more, as to not to ruin the surprise for you. And two thumbs up to Peter Davenport, who brings to life the quintessential father and small business owner, Howard Cunningham.

Ryan Wise’s musical direction is masterful, while Director Jonathan Stahl’s choreography is exquisite.

Happy Days- A New Musical is currently on stage at the Westchester Broadway Theatre until July 17. I highly recommend this production and urge you to purchase tickets by calling (914)-592- 2222 or visiting their website at www.BroadwayTheatre.com. To quote Arthur Fonzarelli, (you have to) ‘Be There, or Be Square.’