by Michall Jeffers
The year is 1959, and we’re all in Arnold’s malt shop. There’s a big old jukebox in the corner. The pretty girls are wearing bobby sox, saddle shoes, crinolines, and cinch belts. The guys have on their letterman sweaters. Music is playing, and everyone is smiling. No wonder we remember these Happy Days with such nostalgia. The biggest problems are the threat that Arnold’s may have to make way for a mall; redheaded Richie Cunningham (Herb Porter) is being pressured by his cute girlfriend, Lori Beth (Hannah Kate Wilson), to get engaged; and superstar chick magnet Fonzie (Nick Varricchio) is being annoyed by his enemies, the Malachi brothers. In fact, Jumpy (Nicholas Park) and Myron (Ian Parmenter) Malachi- pronounced “Mal-LATCH-ee”- are so bad, they announce “Our favorite part of Bambi was the forest fire.”
Roaring onto the scene on her motorcycle, Fonzie’s old squeeze Pinky Tuscadaro (Maria Logan) takes the town by storm. She’s a real tomato in white short shorts, high heeled boots, and a fringed jacket. Her hair is teased, and true to her name, she’s a redhead wearing a pink neck scarf, pink belt, and a pink blouse knotted above her belly button. She and The Fonze are still carrying a torch for each other. Pinky advises Richie’s little sister Joanie (Mia Weinberger), whom she calls Shortcake, to be bold in her attempt to connect with her crush, Chachi (Mike D’Amico) at the dance. Chachi, Richie and pals Ralph (Schyler Conaway) and Potsie (Michael Linden), have formed a group called “The Dial Tones,” and they perform hoping to raise money to save Arnold’s. Unfortunately, not enough cash is raised, so dad Howard Cunningham (Peter Davenport) and his friends from the Leopard Lodge devise a plan.
The Cunninghams represent the ideal American family of the ’50’s. Dad is focused on getting a plaque from his lodge; he tells us that Mom would never dream of wearing pants, she bakes pies. Joanie tries to learn how to twirl a baton, and to get as many “wah-wah-wah” exclamations of praise as possible from Chachi. Richie is super clean-cut, and mom Marion (Lori Hammel) is, well, maybe not quite as content as her family thinks she is. There’s more to her than just cooking, cleaning, and making swell pies.
This production is high energy and good clean fun. The book is by Garry Marshall, the TV genius behind such hits as the original Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy. He’s cleverly spiked this musical with topical laugh lines, including “The price of gas can’t get any higher than 12 cents a gallon.” Ralph and Potsie perform the “Schlemiel, Schmozzle” routine from the Laverne and Shirley opening. There’s also a reference to Chuck, the oldest Cunningham sibling who went off to college in Season One and was never heard from again. By having Marion sing a lament to her limited role, Marshall gently reminds the audience that this was not the best of times if you were a woman, homosexual, or African American. The Malachi’s faux Spanish number is funny and well done; the kids’ dancing is high energy and athletic. Paul Williams’ music is bouncy and appropriate, if not memorable. Looking for a fun night at the theater for everyone from Grandma to the youngsters in your family? Happy Days at WBT is just the ticket.
Happy Days. Through July 17 at the Westchester Broadway Theatre (1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, NY) Tickets: (914)-592-2222, www.broadwaytheatre.com
Photos by John Vecchiolla