“Happy Days” – Broadway Across America – Arizona ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ November 20, 2008


Broadway in Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

If you loved “Happy Days” on television, you will no doubt adore the new musical version at ASU Gammage through Sunday. It brings back all the old characters and uses a silly, nonsensical plot to remind us of the carefree days of 1959 in Milwaukee when everything was uncomplicated and straightforward. On the other hand, if you are looking for a well staged, expensively produced Broadway musical, the new show cheats you with the cheap way it has been created.

The positives come from how easily and naturally this musical reminds us of simpler times. Gas was 12 cents a gallon and no one expected it to ever get higher. It plays on infectious innocence. The television hero, Richie Cunningham, still solves any crisis in 30 minutes. The character machinations are endless but its all boils down to boy wants girl, girl wants boy, and both succeed. Talk about sexism. Women are trusting housewives who say little and do nothing but prepare meals while their men work. Men treat the women like second-class people.

Original author Garry Marshall penned the musical’s book. Paul Williams wrote the inane score and borrowed the original theme song. In addition to Richie, other familiar characters include; Marion, his mother; Howard, his hardworking, hardware-store owning father; Joanie, his sister; The Fonz; Pinky; Potsie; Chachi; and Ralph. The plot is ridiculous. Arnold’s Restaurant, the gang’s hangout, is threatened with demolition and everyone decides to save it.

Gordon Greenberg’s staging is elementary, boringly repetitious, and dull, as is Michele Lynch’s choreography. Cheap sets, terrible lighting, an awful sound system turned up so loud you can’t understand many of the lyrics, and an over-amplified band pounds out the score like they were playing truly creative musical compositions. The cast are clones of their television characters. They use the same gestures, stances, and responses. Joey Sorge has Henry Winkler’s Fonz down to the letter, and Steven Booth acts just like Ronnie Howard even if he doesn’t look anything like his television persona.

It’s been a real rag-tag Broadway season so far at ASU Gammage. Next are two far better shows, “Spring Awakening” and “The Lion King,” to reassure musical theater lovers that real Broadway shows still play on our Broadway series.

“Happy Days,” which begins a national tour here after a Los Angeles shakedown run, will be laughed away if it ever plays close to Broadway. It continues through Sunday, November 23. For tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 480-784-4444 or go online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C If you loved the television show.
D If you love Broadway musicals.