Review: Happy Days at the Courthouse Center

Yesterday once more
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 5, 2011

Theater_Happy-Days_main
THE ORIGINATORS The cast of TV's Happy Days.
Every period has a Golden Age, whether it's Greeks looking back upon the justice goddess Astraea or Americans looking back upon the glories of rock 'n' roll.

That was the premise of Garry Marshall's 1974-1984 TV series Happy Days. In 2007, with book by Marshall and music and lyrics by Paul Williams, they pumped up the volume and created a musical version. At the Courthouse Center for the Arts through July 23, a bouncy rendition is shaking the rafters, directed and choreographed buoyantly by Russell M. Maitland.

The musical is set in 1959, while the sitcom covered the mid-1950s to mid-'60s, both revolving around the Ron Howard character Richie Cunningham and his too-cool-for-school biker pal and chick magnet Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, aka the Fonz, immortalized by Henry Winkler.

Since the high school kids in the show are all about personality, this musical depends on the charisma of the main characters, played by actors not much older. Fortunately, it has an attention-getting and interest-keeping Fonzie in Shane Quinn, whose ritually combed curly black hair could compete in a coif-off with Winkler's pompadour, and whose swagger and strut works confidently as well. This Richie Cunningham (Allen Yannone) isn't as compelling but serves as a competent foil.

The primary support is skillful, which makes up for the giddy style of the show encouraging some of the less talented to act too broadly. Black-leather-jacketed Fonzie, who has "a black belt in cool," has met his match in Pinky Tuscadero, played with tough-broad pizzazz by Laura Scherf. She had left school to tour with a motorcycle stunt show, and he hadn't wanted to leave with her and be known as Mr. Tuscadero. Era-appropriately, Fonzie makes much of not wanting to appear weak (or as he puts it: "w-w-w-w . . ."), avoiding a wrestling contest with the Malachi brothers because damage to his bum knee could cripple him.

The most flamboyant characters, freshly out of jail, are the black-caped Malachi brothers: Myron (Jack Bailey), who insists on being called Count, and Jumpy (Brandon Kotlow), so mean he cuts the yo-yo string of Richie's buddy Chachi (Nick Rollo) — and this, grrr, after Pinky said she thought yo-yos were sexy. (We know that the Malachis are really bad when we learn that their favorite scene in Bambi was the forest fire.)

The interesting acting extends to Richie's parents, hardware store owner Howard (Rick Bagley) and housewife Marion (C.C. Ice). Ice is a sassy treasure in this company, as she demonstrates in "What I Dreamed Last Night" ("I want what I want and I want it now/Forget what traditions of the past allow"). In a reprise of that song, we get an ensemble of housewives dancing with hot, freshly baked pies on oven mitts. Another standout character is Stephen DeCeasare as Al Delvecchio, owner of the teen diner hangout that the kids are trying to save from urban renewal with a dance contest fundraiser. (Al brushed off a "Denny somebody" who wanted to open a restaurant with him.)

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