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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Happy Days

Usually I can solve my problems in half an hour, but this one's a doozy.— Richie

Happy Days-NJ
Felicia Finley and Joey Sorge in Happy Days
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
Putting the title down first in a review shouldn't be a difficult task. But I pondered a little too long about whether to put down just Happy Days. The press release refers to the show as Happy Days: A New Musical. The program, however, gives the title as Happy Days A New Musical, but without the colon. My intention is not to offend Gary Marshall, the author of the musical's book based on the characters he created for the Paramount Pictures television series Happy Days that ran on ABC from 1974 to 1984. And since the book is not a direct transcription of any particular episode or episodes, it is understandable that Marshall chose not to call it Happy Days: The Musical, or Happy Days: The New Musical.

Considering that the series ran ten years, it is safe to say that the episodes Marshall wrote for the popular sit-com had to be a lot better than the vacuous script he has come up with for this version with innocuous musical contributions by Paul Williams. The promise of nostalgia was in the air, as it presumably was for the mostly middle-aged audience that filled about half of the venerable theater. Although I have to admit that I never saw an episode then or in re-runs, my companion filled me in on the characters and with the show's premise.

Though Williams has no history with the original series, it's safe to say that his commendable, award-studded history as a composer need not be adversely affected by this score which merely fills up the dull holes in the book. He has written some lively, if forgettable, songs to complement the era being celebrated, specifically 1959.

There are a number of odd things about this production under the hit and miss direction of Gordon Greenberg. While many in the cast have presumably been picked to help fans recall the fondly remembered Milwaukee teenagers, none of them come close to looking young enough. That includes the iconic Fonzie, as played by Joey Sorge, a Henry Winkler (TV's Fonzie) look alike. One can assume that Sorge, who sings and dances well enough, affects all the expected preening and posturing in his leather jacket and jeans that defined the Fonzie.

I'm not sure that the otherwise talented Felicia Finely, as girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero, was supposed to look and act like a bleached blonde gun moll, one of those tough-looking babes that dressed up the covers on those lurid 1940s detective stories magazines. Finley does look great in hot pants, as do Stephanie Gibson and Lisa Gajda, as her attentive coterie "The Pinkettes." But where did Fonzie and Pinky pick up those Brooklyn accents? Who knows, since the plot doesn't explain Fonzie and Pinky's back story.

The irony is that Marshall's egregiously unfunny dialogue and the lame situations that it supports give us little to care about. Adding to the general torpor is the Cunningham family. Patrick Garner is vaguely amusing as Howard, the owner of a hardware store. As his wife Marion, Cynthia Ferrer smiles warmly, gets to bake pies and do an interpolated tap dance that appears out of step with the rest of the show. Rory O'Malley is appropriately nerdy as son Richie, and his sister Natalie Bradshaw is an adorable irritant.

The plot focus is on the teens' attempt to save Arnold's drive-in soda shop from demolition to make way for a parking lot and mall. A fund-raising dancing competition gives choreographer Michele Lynch an excuse for putting the company through its paces, which includes a pathetically staged slow motion wrestling match , in which Fonzie get the better of two bullies. A number near the end of the show has the company marching with hand-painted toilet plungers (Someone already marched with trombones).

Designer Walt Spangler's cheerful and bright unit setting, David Woolard's period-friendly clothing and Jeff Croiter's lighting supply what little magic and imagination there is.

Revised and revised again since its premiere last year at the Falcon Theater in Burbank, California, Happy Days had a workshop engagement last August at Goodspeed Musicals where it will return again next spring as a main stage production prior to a national tour. Any hope that the producers have to repeat the success of Grease without a lot of work is purely wishful thinking.

Happy Days A New Musical
Music and lyrics by Paul Williams
Book by Garry Marshall
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Scenic Design: Walt Spangler
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Randy Hansen
Musical Director: Shawn Gough
Musical Supervision, Arrangements, and Orchestrations: John McDaniel
Choreography: Michele Lynch
Cast: Natalie Bradshaw, Todd Buonopane, Julia Burrows, Michael J. Farina, Cynthia Ferrer, Felicia Finley Patrick Garner, Kate Loprest, Eric Schneider, Joey Sorge, Andrew Varela
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ, (973) 376- 4343 or
Tickets ($93.25 - $26.25) Performances: Wednesday at 7:30 PM; Thursdays and Sundays at 2 & 7:30 PM; Fridays at 8 PM and Saturdays at 2 & 8 PM.
Opened 09/30/07; Ends 10/28/07
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/10/07
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Welcome to Wisconsin Company
  • Snap /Fonzie, Carhop Girls
  • The Thing About Girls /Richie, Ralph, Potsie, Chachi
  • Romeo Midnight /Richie, Ralph, Potsie, Chachi
  • Leopards Are We/ Manny, Mac, Arnold, Howard
  • The Plaque /Manny, Mac, Arnold, Howard
  • Hot Love /Richie, Ralph, Potsie, Chachi
  • The Pink's in Town / Pinky, Pinkettes, Company
  • Alas, Alack/ Howard
  • Message in the Music / Company
  • What I Dreamed Last Night / Marion, Joanie
  • Maybe It's Time To Move On / Fonzie, Company
Act Two
  • Run/ Richie, Ralph, Potsie, Chachi
  • Legend in Leather /Pinky
  • "Aaay"mless / Fonzie, Carhop Girls
  • Malachis / Count Malachi, Jumpy Malachi
  • What I Dreamed Last Night (Reprise) /Pinky, Marion, Joanie
  • Guys Like Us /Fonzie, Guys
  • Bikini Beauty /Richie, Ralph, Potsie, Chachi
  • Dancing On The Moon/ Fonzie, Pinky
  • Ordinary Hero / Company
  • Happy Days/ Company
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