When does the new musical Happy Days, which opened this week at the Elgin Theatre, jump the shark?
Take your pick from many moments.
I personally favour one near the beginning when author Garry Marshall steals a joke from Mae West about a girl who used to be “white as snow” before she “drifted.”
Or you could wait until the Malachi Brothers swirl into view, overacted by Matt Merchant and Matt Walker with a verve that makes you think Lenny and Squiggy bopped over from Laverne & Shirley.
Or you might keep the faith until Felicia Finley skanks onstage as Pinky Tuscadero, answering the question: “What would Sharon Stone be like in a musical?”
Yes, it may take you a while to decide exactly when, but just as surely as The Fonz leaped over one of our finny friends in an episode of the beloved 1970s sitcom, this musical adaptation of said beloved show will eventually disenchant you.
The book, written by Marshall (who ought to know better, having created all of these characters for television), doesn’t know if it wants to be satirical, snide or affectionate and keeps wallowing in arch anachronisms. (The Fonz says he can’t stand menus with items that say “Market Value.” In 1959?)
The plot has to do with the hallowed soda fountain Arnold’s being threatened with closure and everyone in town rallying to its defence. But the Cunninghams are kind of pushed to the sidelines to make way for extraneous comic characters like the cringe-inducing Malachi Brothers and the love affair between The Fonz and Pinky.
The score by once-skilled ’70s tunesmith Paul Williams doesn’t remind you of the ’50s, or any other decade for that matter, and the songs go out one ear as quickly as they entered the other. Gordon Greenberg has provided the Ikea equivalent of direction and Michele Lynch’s choreography serves up every cliché of the period without flavour, wit or irony.
This tapioca-pudding dullness extends to most of the cast as well, with Steven Booth’s Richie Cunningham causing Ron Howard to seem positively vibrant in retrospect, while Daniel Robinson’s Potsie makes you long for the charisma of Anson Williams and James Michael Lambert’s Ralph positively causes you to pine for Don Most.
In fact, there are only two people you’ll remember fondly and that’s because they have some of the zing of the originals.
Cynthia Ferrer’s Marion Cunningham captures a lot of the slightly loopy off-centre lunacy that Marion Ross brought to the role, although she has to fight some “What I could have done with my life” yearning moments that are too heavy for the show.
And best of all is Joey Sorge as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli.
Yes, it could be argued that Sorge is absolutely channelling Henry Winkler, who created the part, but he does it superbly.
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