Review: ‘Happy Days’ warmed a few hearts

First Posted: 1/10/2015

Encore Theatre brought “Happy Days: A New Musical” to the stage Friday night to bring a much needed January thaw, and they definitely did warm a few hearts.

The show had a lot going for it. Garry Marshall, who created the sitcom for television, wrote this script as well. The music written by Paul Williams allowed the old friends to collaborate on a subject with which they were both comfortable. Anyone who gave us “Mork and Mindy” on television and “Pretty Woman” at the movies has a head start when it comes to appreciation. You just walk through the door ready to be happy.

What potential some of these performers have! Many aren’t there yet, but they are trying. One example is Chase Little-Battle as Chachi Arcola. This is his second effort, and given three or four more with as much improvement there are possibilities. At the other end of the spectrum is Madison Downing as Joanie Cunningham. She oozes talent, and it will be fun to watch her evolve.

The truly consistent pro was Morgan Bodie as Marian Cunningham. She owned the stage. The musical highlight of the show was a trio when she was joined by Joanie and Pinky Tuscadero, played by Ambyr Rose. They were solid equals.

The audience members got to laugh and reminisce and inject their own memories with each familiar reference to a more innocent time. Who doesn’t enjoy a stage full of poodle skirts, roller skating waitresses and a jukebox that requires a jolt to play its dance music?

The dance contest had a few enjoyable specialty moves, but the backup groups left a little to be desired. There wasn’t much rhythm displayed by those who were in the show for that reason. The struggle with dance goes on.

Here is the major difficulty brought to community theater when choosing to do musicals. It is highly unlikely that those who audition are equally gifted in singing, dancing and acting. The director is forced to choose which is more important. The role of Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli illustrates this process. Josh Adcock was obviously selected to sing the part. The rest of the requirements suffer. He just isn’t assertive enough to play the part, but he was probably the best choice.

Brian Emerick and Joe Jones as the Malachi brothers and several other cameo roles left their inhibitions at home and provided much of the cause for laughter. They were just two adults having a good time in a teenage world.

When we could see the six instrumentalists, we could rarely hear the vocalists. When they were not visible because of closed curtains, the balance worked quite well. Because the story is perpetuated through song, the lyrics need to be heard. The opening number was just sound, no lyrics.

Here comes the picky part. Howard Cunningham’s sleeves need to be hemmed and he would not wear tennis shoes with his suit.

Next year’s season was announced. It begins with “Shrek The Musical” and is followed by “Inherit the Wind.” That’s a nice start, making the children happy before school starts and satisfying the older crowd in September. Theater goes on as long as there will soon be enough money for the much-needed boiler.

“A Raisin in the Sun” arrives on the Encore stage in March. It is a powerful family saga that has been read in high school English classes for a half-century. Don’t let that fool you. It is a complex piece of literature that can be appreciated on many levels. The season rolls on.