PRODUCER Amy Anzel made no secret of her dream of taking her musical lovechild Happy Days: A New Musical to the West End when it featured in the Channel 4 behind the scenes documentary The Sound of Musicals recently.
But before that dream gets anywhere near a reality the show is touring regional theatres, opening at The Mayflower in Southampton this week.
It’s based on the hit US TV show set in the 1950s, which ran for ten years from 1974 and made stars out of soon-to-be top director Ron Howard, Scott Baio and, of course, Henry Winkler as The Fonz.
Stepping into Winkler’s shoes is Emmerdale actor Ben Freeman, and he does a top job, belting out the tunes while still managing to capture the essence of the King of Cool – with just a hint of vulnerability.
Playing his love interest is former Sugababe Heidi Range. She seemed a little unsure at the start of the show, but soon got into the swing of things, with a singing voice that more than held its own.
Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame is an absolute delight as bored housewife Marion Cunningham, as is James Patterson as her husband Howard, a member of the hilariously ridiculous Leopard Lodge guild of businessmen movers and shakers.
The young cast playing Richie, Joanie, Chachi, Ralph and the rest are so engaging and enthusiastic that you can’t help but get drawn into this lively show.
Happy Days: A New Musical lacks the big bucks special effects and pizzazz of a West End show, but it has a certain something.
When Fonzie came on at the end and announced he and his friends were going to rock it up with a big song and dance number to finish, and could the audience all get to their feet, clap and dance, everyone seemed more than happy to oblige. By that time we had been thoroughly charmed, and it would have seemed churlish not to.
Does the show have what it takes to make it in the West End? It has a few rough edges and it needs a bit of spit and polish, but with some tweaking here and there, it could have a chance.
We certainly came out of the theatre smiling.
* Happy Days: A New Musical is at the Mayflower until Saturday. Tickets on 02380 711811 or at mayflower.org.uk.