It’s intermission at Tuesday night’s performance of ‘Happy Days’ as I start this review, and I am in suspense! Unbeknownst to the Dialtones, the high school male quartet upstage singing the theme song in close harmony, The Fonz is preparing to mount his beloved Harley, Dolores, downstage and leave Milwaukee for good! Talk about a dramatically ironic way to end Act I!
‘Happy Days: A New Musical’
WHERE: Proctors Main Stage, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: through Feb.22
HOW MUCH: $55-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204 or go to www.proctors.org
Folks, if you’ve got anywhere between $20-$55, or you can get it before Feb. 22, you’ll have a delightful time at this new musical, courtesy of Garry Marshall, whose brainchild hit TV show was between 1974-84. Now you can feel nostalgia for the series built on nostalgia.
What this show has going for it is a peppy score and clever lyrics by Paul Williams; some exuberant choreography by Michele Lynch (though the dance contest number seems more 40s than 50s); Bruce Barnes’ smart conducting of a high-octane pit band; crisply detailed direction by Gordon Greenberg; and a scrappy cast who deliver the steps, drolleries and songs with panache.
Now why is Arthur Fonzarelli (Joey Sorge) departing? To save Arnold’s restaurant from the wrecking ball, he’s willing to wrestle the comically fierce Malachi brothers (Matt Merchant & Matt Gates) at a televised fundraiser. Richie Cunningham (Steven Booth), however, fears that The Fonz will be killed, so he threatens to tell everyone that The Fonz has a bum knee.
The Fonz would rather leave town than ’fess up to any sort of weakness!
But leaving means abandoning his biker babe, Pinky Tuscadero (Felicia Finley), so Act II resolves our leather-bound hero’s quest for both good deeds and humility.
Tongue-in-cheek dramatic irony is everywhere evident when the good citizens of Wisconsin in 1959 pooh-pooh the advent of such cultural staples as malls, Denny’s Restaurants, and computers, and the show could operate on that level alone, thank you very much. Garry Marshall is a funny guy.
But he’s given the show’s book a spine with a touching number for Marion Cunningham (Leah Sprecher at this performance), Pinky, and Joanie (Whitney Bashor), “What I Dreamed Last Night,” a song that presages changes in the women’s movement in the 60s. Nice.
The cast is talented from top to bottom, but I particularly liked the hammy work of Merchant & Gates; the energy of Daniel Robinson as Potsie; Sprecher’s three-dimensional performance, somehow echoing Julianne Moore in “Far From Heaven”; Finley’s range, from “The Pink’s in Town” to “Legend in Leather”; and every strut, stare, snap and note from the remarkable Mr. Sorge. It’s hard to take your eyes off him, and that’s just what The Fonz is all about.
The whole thing goes down like a malted!