Theatre Review: Happy Days

Set in 1959, TV’s favourite family, The Cunninghams, and their friends band together in 1959 to stop their hangout, Arnold’s, from being demolished.

Happy-Days-2Presented by Northern Light Theatre Company
Reviewed 20 March 2015

Set in 1950s Milwaukee, Happy Days was a highly successful television show of the 70s, which made stars of such people as Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Scott Baio, Tom Bosley and Marion Ross.

It was so successful that it spawned three TV spin-offs (Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachi) and inadvertently, due to a rather silly episode plotline, coined the phrase now used by many television executives, to ‘jump the shark’ – referring to using some sort of extravagant plot device in an attempt to boost ratings on a flailing show.

It also spawned a lesser known stage musical, Happy Days, written by the show’s creator, Garry Marshall with music and lyrics by the ‘biggest’ little composer of the 70s, Paul Williams. The story takes place in 1959 just before Richie Cunningham goes off to college and revolves around the efforts of the well known characters to try and save the local milkbar, Arnold’s, from being demolished.

Despite the paper thin plot, the songs aren’t bad and the writing quite clever, with many references to American pop culture at the time. These, however, tend to fall a bit flat with modern day Australian audiences and a glossary included in the programme would have helped with the sting of some of the jokes.

Though well meaning, Northern Light’s production is a bit hit and miss and, like the era portrayed, full of the good and the bad. Overall direction from George and Gary Humphries is pedestrian and mundane at best – full of grand entrances and exits but with not much in between: there is a lot of ‘stand, deliver the line and don’t move while you talk’ going on.

Kylie and Tammy Pedler’s choreography is tight and appropriately styled, but somewhat ordinary; whilst Danielle Pedler makes quite a good debut as a musical director but should shoot some of her brass section. Another one on the assassin’s hit list should be the sound technician. On the night reviewed (halfway through the season) the sound levels were atrocious, with leads not having their mics turned on in time for numbers and all lyrics coming out unintelligibly. This should not be happening, particularly midway through a season.

John Sheehan’s sets are sparse but effective and brightened up by Ann Humphries colourful, and sometimes hilarious, costumes.

As Al, Kevin Knott’s performance needs to be tightened, and the Worst Acting trophy of 1959 (or any year) has to go to Daniel Abbott and Daniel Watkins as the Malachi Brothers. Their over acting is nothing but embarrassing. On the other hand, Steven Lewis adds subtlety to his ‘over the top’ness and provides us with a wonderfully funny performance as Ralph Malph.

Rebecca Mason, Bella Burke, Kyra Mace as the Carhops and Amanda Sharp and Julie Pollitt as the Pinkettes all sparkle; Delainie Whibley and Daniel Vickers make a nice couple as Joanie and Chachi; with Cheryl Ford channelling the original Marion, Marion Ross, perfectly to give a stand out performance.

Gus Smith as The Fonz (‘Heyyyy!!!’) and Bianca Levai as Pinky Tuscadero do well, but Smith is too old to be convincing and Levai a bit too twee.

The man of the hour plot-wise and in this production is Nathan Quadrio as Richie Cunningham. Quadrio shines brighter than his red hair in his portrayal of innocence and all-round Mr Nice Guy.

This production is enjoyable, but at the end of the day(s) it is more ‘smiling’ than ‘happy’.

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Twitter: @briangods

Venue: Shedley Theatre, Playford Civic Centre, Playford Blvd, Elizabeth
Season: 13 – 28 March 2015
Duration: 2 hours 30 mins including interval
Tickets: $27.00 – $32.00 Family $98
Bookings: Book through the Northern Lights Theatre Company online from their website or phone 8281 5026 or 8262 7713 (9am and 9pm). Bookings also available through BASS online, phone 131 246


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