BWW Interviews: The Cast Of HAPPY DAYS!
It's been raining in Britain for what seems like months - before I left my house to head off to the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, it was raining so hard I couldn't see the end of my garden (and I only have a small garden).
But I had to make the trek to a basement rehearsal room in deepest, darkest Kent as I was invited to a very special sneak preview of Happy Days: The Musical - and I was intrigued to see what the show looks like.
Producer Amy Anzel - most recently a star of Channel 4's The Sound of Musicals - might be a novice, but all the creative signs look good: songs by Paul Williams, book by the legendary Garry Marshall, and directed and choreographed by Olivier nominee Andrew Wright.
And, of course, there's a cast led by Ben Freeman (The Fonz), pop star Heidi Range (Pinky), and National Treasure Cheryl Baker (Mrs Cunningham). I spoke to the trio about the show - and their imminent UK tour...
I've been lucky enough to watch rehearsals today - this is a company with a lot of energy, particularly one week before press night...
Cheryl: Because we've had Christmas and New Year in the meantime, and because it's such a happy ship! Even though there's pressure, you never feel that pressure.
Heidi: We all feel proud of it, making this together, and the longer rehearsals have gone exciting, the more excited I feel about how the show's going to be and for people to come and see it.
Ben: I think it's all down to the way that Andrew has taken rehearsals - he has such an infectious enthusiasm but requires you to work very hard all the time - but it never seems to be a struggle to do that! Rehearsals are fun. You're free to try things, you can see what works - when it clicks you can see that you're finding your way through it. We're just about there.
I've done one new show before, and it is exciting when you have no reference of where it's all going to come from. We have the TV show, but in terms of putting it into a musical, it's not been done before. It's an iconic show, with iconic characters -
Cheryl: Especially yours!
I was going to say! Obviously there is a hugely iconic reference point.
Ben: I have to say it's been difficult. I've had to question myself a lot of times - most days! You go from doing an impersonation, you find yourself dropping into that, and then you pull away from it to find a character you're happy with, and then you wonder if anyone will recognise it, so then you go back to making it sound like the original, and then you're heading back towards an impersonation again.
Heidi: If you've seen a show before you get an idea of what it's meant to be like. For me, Pinky was only in three episodes, so I've been able to make her what I want to make her, but maybe it would have been helpful if she'd been in more!
Cheryl: It's the inaugural tour. From now on, anyone who does this show - well, we did it first. They will see us and think, 'Do I do it like this?' We've put our stamp on it. I get offered a lot of stuff that I turn down, but as soon as they said Happy Days, I said yes.
Amy Anzel has said that she thinks British audiences love 50s Americana - why is that?
Cheryl: When Happy Days was on the telly, there was a lot of American television. That's all we had for escapism. It was a really down time. That kind of thing, with the diner, it's recreating those memories for so many people. That's why Dreamboats and Petticoats and Footloose and Grease are popular - we love that era in the UK. That's why I think Happy Days is going to be a big success.
So you have a UK tour coming up -
Cheryl: Six months!
Heidi: It was scary - six months with people I don't know! It's such a relief that everyone is so nice and gets on. It's tiring, but I'm so excited about the show, I'm boring everyone about it, my boyfriend can't get any other conversation out of me. Every night, all I talk about is the show, as if he knows everybody, when he's not met anyone yet. I love it - I'm on a high the whole time.
Cheryl: It's like having a new family. I was so looking forward to coming back to work after Christmas - how many people can say that?