★ ★ ★ | Happy Days The Musical, Sheffield Lyceum and UK Tour
The Cunningham family are back in this new musical which transports the audience back to Arnolds Malt Shop for a huge slice of 50’s Americana, where Richie Cunningham and his friends and family rally the community to save their favourite local hangout from a corporate takeover. Along the way, they have dance contests, wrestling matches, learn about love, fulfil their dreams and rekindle old romances, all under the watchful eye of the ultra-cool Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzerella. But will their fundraising efforts be enough to save their beloved malt shop?
Written by Garry Marshall, the original creative force behind the popular TV series, and with Henry Winkler (the original “Fonz”) on board as a creative consultant, this new musical rocks ‘n’ rolls onto the stage in this national tour.
The first thing noticeable from the very start of the show was how well cast it was, with each of the actors looking remarkably like their television counterparts, in particular, Andrew Waldron who played Ralph. The show exploded to life with an upbeat ensemble piece as the opening number and from thereon in, the show progressed with an almost relentless barrage of songs, 21 in total, which, in a show with a running time of around 1 hour 45 minutes, meant that the next musical number was never more than a few moments away. The original songs were actually quite catchy upon first listen, but never memorable, with a fairly good weighting of up-tempo, rock ‘n’ roll tinged numbers interspersed with a couple of ballads.
There was no faulting the vivaciousness of the young cast, all of whom threw themselves into the show with an almost unstoppable energy. The set was simple, mainly using fold out sections of the main set to create the different locations and whilst the set was never spectacular, it was functional for the production. The lighting and costumes were colourful and compounded the energetic feel of the show, with the whole thing feeling fresh and modern which juxtaposed with the 1950’s setting slightly.
Former Sugababe, Heidi Range, impressed with her performance and a great singing voice which shone through particularly well in the ballads. Ben Freeman had an unexpectedly good singing voice although came across as a little aloof at times as he strutted across the stage as “The Fonz”. Cheryl Baker undertook an excellent turn as Marion Cunningham and Andrew Waldron provided an enjoyable comic performance as Ralph Malph. But the whole cast really gave it their all throughout the show and their enthusiasm was undeniable.
One of the aspects where the show faltered was in its sound, with a number of the audience commenting on how the volume of the orchestra completely drowned out the casts ‘s voices on the majority of the musical numbers, making the lyrics almost inaudible and leading to the production to come across as “shouty” at times. This was a particular shame when other songs were appropriately balanced in terms of music and voices. The show also came across as a little forced and when the audience were encouraged to their feet for the final sing-along, it felt contrived and stilted.
When you consider everything that this show has going for it, you would expect it to be greater than the sum of its parts. But despite the catchy songs, a decent cast and the colourful energy of the show, there was just something missing which led to the show feeling hollow and a little soulless. Happy Days comes across as a hybrid of Grease and Hairspray, but doesn’t reach the heights of either. It was an enjoyable enough piece of theatre, but ultimately, was fairly forgettable.
Happy Days is currently playing at the Sheffield Lyceum theatre until 22nd February 2014 before continuing on its national tour.
Information can be found at http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/happy-days-14/ or at the shows official website at http://happydaysthemusical.com/home
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.