20/01/14 – Theatre Royal, Brighton
With 1950s radio advertisements playing as the perfect backing track to the hustle and bustle of expectation as the audience took their seats, the radio tracks painted the perfect 1950s atmosphere before the show even started – where was my perm and leather ‘Fonz’ jacket when I needed it? The 1950s-60s was already one of my favourite eras thanks to its music, jukeboxes, dances, floaty circular skirts and letterman jackets so I was ready and waiting to see how the whole performance of ‘Happy Days: A New Musical’ would come together. Just the vibe and enthusiasm that is used to portray those years makes me – somebody who grew up as a ‘noughties’ teenager – envious of the dances, the courting and the American diner socials. As soon as that famous television theme tune reached our ears you could feel the excitement bubble through the audience in the Theatre Royal, Brighton. You could see ‘Monday, Tuesday, happy days!’ on everyone’s lips! It’s definitely a song that won’t be leaving my head for a couple of days…
As far as smaller musicals go this one ticks all the right boxes. Song after song was sung to perfection with catchy lyrics that fit perfectly with the storyline. Each cast member performed with such enthusiasm and affection for who they were portraying, especially through the professionalism of their American accents. You could sense they all knew they had a lot to live up to, but for an opening night it’s hard to complain about what I got to preview a few hours ago.
Happy Days was originally aired in 1974 and ran for an epic 10 years with The Fonz fronting it. It was series that portrayed the lives of American teenagers in the 50s (if you didn’t know already!). The curtain open with Richie Cunningham (played by Scott Waugh) addressing the crowd, with his friends socialising behind him in the diner surrounded by neon lights and classic American diner booths. The close-knit relationship between family and friends of both generations can be felt in this story, with Richie introducing his best friend ‘The Fonz’ with pride. Ben Freeman (an old Emmerdale face) walks on stage with attitude and the famous Fonz ‘ehhhhs’ and finger clicks – getting all the girls week at the knees (me included).
Throughout the performance a number of recognisable faces are introduced including Cheryl Baker as Marion Cunningham, Richie’s ‘housewife’ mom knocking us out with her stunning solos (and sporting hot pants in one scene!). My favourite cast member by far was Heidi Range as Pinky Tuscadero, not only because I adored the Sugababes when I was younger but because of her gorgeous rough and ready tone, perfect vocals and impressive acting skills. She had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand…just as much as the male characters!
But rather than The Fonz/Pinky love story hooking me in, I found I concerned myself more with whether there was to be a happy ending for Arthur Fonzarellis’ cousin Chachi Arcola (Eddie Myles) and Joanie Cunningham (Emma Harrold), Richie’s sister. Their sweet back and forth of compliments, innocent young flirtations and constant yearning for advice from their role models (Pinky and Fonzi) made you root for them all the way through the show!
It was the work of the cast members that made you relate to the characters so well. We didn’t feel like just an audience, especially at the encore when Ben Freeman addressed us as ‘The Fonz’ persuading us all to stand up and get involved – clapping, singing and dancing along to, you guessed it, the theme tune of Happy Days…which we very much obliged to.
The storybook of a set that painted the picture so well, a wide range of colourful costumes, mesmerising choreography and props used left right and centre – it was obvious a lot of care had been taken in the detail of this show. With a great take on the television series, likeable characters, a talented cast and shown at such a perfect venue, it’s definitely one to try and catch.
Get down to the Theatre Royal, Brighton before Saturday (“what a day!”) as you’ll say ‘goodbye grey sky, hello blue’ to a stage full of rock n roll show tunes that you won’t get out of your head…happy days!