There once was a time not too long ago when there was no Internet, Facebook, Angry Birds, Fox News, MTV or HBO. Americans largely had three television channels on their dials – yes, dials – and no remote controls. Throughout the 1970s and into the early19 80s, families gathered around their “massive” 24-inch screens every Tuesday night for 11 seasons of “Happy Days,” which focused on the lives of a group of teenagers in the bubble-gum version of life in the late 1950s as they ate burgers and tossed down milkshakes at Arnold's Drive-In.
The show died a lingering death so severe that it gave rise to the term "jumping the shark" to describe a television show that has lost its way by becoming a parody of itself as a way to survive. Nevertheless, “Happy Days” has become a cult classic of sorts for a new generation of Sunday afternoon TV viewers looking for brain candy.
It was for this second generation of viewers that the 2007 musical stage version of the show was created by Gary Marshall, the creative mind behind the original series. Purists might balk, but the guts of the “Happy Days” world in Milwaukee are still there. And now Tacoma Musical Playhouse has it on its stage.
Howard Cunningham (played by Joseph Woodland) runs the local hardware store. Richie (Galen Wicks) is still “going steady” with Lori Beth (Brittni Reinertsen). Joanie (Kristin Burch) loves Chachi (Jake Hernandez). And of course, the ever-cool Arthur “Fonzi” Fonzarelli (Steve Barnett) walks around in his signature leather jacket with his thumbs at his sides like he is packing a pair of six shooters.
Also true to the series, the legendary Arnold’s is in trouble and the Fonz rumbles onto the scene with his motorcycle to save the day. In this episode ... err, stage production, the diner is set to close when a developer wants to turn the location into a parking lot for some strange commercial center called a “mall.” Yada, yada, yada. The gang stages a wrestling match and sock hop as a way to raise cash to save the diner. Enter from stage left the villains of the story – the Malachi brothers. Jumpy (Josef Lange) and Count (John Miller) challenge the Fonz in a match that brings television cameras. Toss in a few side plots along the way that lead the Fonz to decline and then reconsider just in time to save the day, and all is well by the time the curtain falls.
While this show is not likely to be as memorable as the television series, it is a fun show for the nostalgic walk if for nothing else.
Barnett is no Henry Winkler in this anchor role, but he adds his own little something-something to the part in a performance that could have easily bombed because of its iconic status. His smirks, head bobs and constant hair combing rule the role. What made this show work was the supporting cast and ensemble doing their small parts to create a whole production rather than just a platform for showcasing that legendary role.
The choreography by Jon Douglas Rake involves some of the tightest moves seen on the TMP stage in a while and added to the nostalgia without being kitsch.
While the show will not likely be the most standout production in TMP’s current season, which included “The Color Purple” this past March and offers “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” this summer, “Happy Days” makes for a fun day at the theater for families and fans of the original series.
"Happy Days" plays through May 27 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays as well as at 2 p.m. on May 19 and 26 at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 6th Ave. Ticket prices are $20 to $27. For tickets or more information, visit www.tmp.org or call (253) 565-6867.