BWW Reviews: HAPPY DAYS, Wolverhampton Grand, June 10 2014
Happy Days - the Musical is set in a colourful 1959 on a backdrop of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Based on the popular US sitcom which ran for ten years from 1974-1984, the TV show still harbours a mass number of fans on a worldwide scale. Garry Marshall, the creator of Happy Days, decided to write a book for stage some twenty years after the sitcom ended and since has played to vast audiences across the States and Canada. Amy Anzel, who played one of the Pinkettes in an early US production, wanted to bring the production to British audiences and with the help of Channel 4's The Sound of Musicals got the exposure she needed.
Tom Rogers' set and costume design is excellent and different locations are revealed from what appears at first glance to be a static set. Apart from the delay in assembling Frankin Park - which the cast covered up like the professionals they are - all transitions flowed very well. Philip Gladwell's lighting compliments Rogers' set and costumes really well and there is an exceptionally good rock'n'roll sequence in the finale which is very fitting.
Andrew Wright is notoriously brilliant with his choreography and in this case excels as a director as well. As a production it is flawed but I do feel this is down to the book as opposed to any of the show's hands on creative team. It feels very biased towards American audiences and unfortunately doesn't seem to get out of first gear. It is a very pleasant watch and washes over you but there is nothing to get your teeth into for an audience member.
Characterisation-wise, Anne Vosser's casting choices work. Ben Freeman as the Fonz is very cool and everything the character needs to be. His diction whilst singing, however, is quite poor but I believe this is due to him bringing the accent into the lyrics too much. It is clear he sings well and he has proven this in his recent West End success. He also struggles with some of the choreography and seems a little awkward at times. Sugababes' Heidi Range, as love interest Pinky, is more than competent with her vocals and acting but considering her dance experience in the Sugababes, she does seem to lack skill in this area. Cheryl Baker plays Mrs Cunningham and is somewhat underused but the material she does have is witty; perhaps slight overkill with the Bucks Fizz references during the What I Dreamed Last Night (Reprise) segment but the audience appeared to appreciate it.
The cement of the production are not within the star casting but in the strength of the ensemble work. Scott Waugh and Emma Harrold as Richie and Joanie Cunningham respectively are great and the 'Dial Tones' vocal harmony sections are superb - as are the ensemble vocals throughout. Greg Arrowsmith has clearly done a lot of work which has paid dividends and his band sound wonderful.
Happy Days plays at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until 14 June 2014 and continues to tour the UK until next month.