Theater Review: "Happy Days" At Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
What better way to spend a Friday night than bobbing your head to the musical adaptation of a classic television show?
There is no better way. Friday marked the premiere of "Happy Days," a new musical at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. The production is based on the hit television series featuring one of America’s most beloved families, the Cunninghams. The whole gang makes an appearance in the show — Richie, Potsie, Ralph Malph, Joanie, Chachi and, of course, “The Fonz."
The show takes place in 1959 Milwaukee, a time of wholesomeness and overly cheery people. Complete with varsity sweaters, hula-hoops and jukebox sock hoppin, “Happy Days” makes the audience want to get up and dance throughout the show.
Happy Days is a cheesy production, but in a fun-loving and entertaining way. Not one person in the audience will walk away without a smile on his or her face.
The two stars in the show are not only talented but also quite attractive. Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli is played by Derek Keeling, who also used to play Danny Zuko in the Broadway revival of Grease. His interpretation of “The Fonz” isn’t that different from Zuko, but he does a good job of playing the cool guy. He also bares a striking resemblance to John Stamos, which is good for the ladies in the audience.
Derek Klena plays Richie Cunningham; Klena is a taller, less nerdy version of Richie. He is a good actor with a great voice, but he is too attractive to be believable as his character. On stage, he looks like a popular guy pretending to be nerdy and straight laced. However, it is a musical and his voice makes the audience forget that he’s really too cool for his role.
The Malachi brothers are not only great singers, but their comedic timing is impeccable. Jumpy Malachi’s (Will Harris) ode to Shakespeare and his impersonation of a Canadian accent are hysterical.
Harris dazzles the audience with his stage presence. Harris and Leinbach together are like a Jafaar or Gaston in the show. They have a huge and imposing presence, but you still kind of like to see them on stage.
Ralph Malph (played by Dane Biren) is the comedic delight on the show. Every time Ralph appears on stage he is all you can look at. A small, young-looking red head, Biren knows how to be over the top without annoying the audience.
Other great performances come from Joanie (Tessa Grady) and Mrs. Cunningham (Tracy Lore). The two women have a duet together that can send tingles down a person’s spine. “What I Dreamed Last Night” is a song about Joanie and Mrs. Cunningham’s secret wishes. Joanie wants Chachi to like her, while Mrs. Cunningham wants to show the world she can be more than just a housewife. The song itself is powerful, but the two voices together give it life. Lore has a full and rich sound to her voice that is perfectly balanced by Grady’s young and girlish tone. Both of them know how to command a stage.
The show is full of great one-liners that are wonderfully executed. The show’s final line is the best in the show. Right before sending Ritchie off to college Howard Cunningham (John Richard Petersen) says to his wife, “What could be more stable than a college dorm room in the 1960s.”? It is such a simple line, but the irony of it and the naïve look on Petersen’s face makes the line especially zingy.
The choreography in the show is also great. All of the dancers are very talented and nearly every cast member does some sort of acrobatic jump. Right before the end of the first half the gang has a dance competition at Arnold’s that is thrilling to watch. For minutes on end, the audience sees bodies jumping and leaping from every direction. It is amazing that everyone was able to perform so well on opening night. Although, there were a few parts where it seemed as though some people almost fell, but you would never be able to tell by their faces.
Hardly anything negative could be said about the show or its cast, but it does have a few dull moments here and there. Pinky Tuscadero’s (Misty Cotton) solo is not as vibrant as one would hope. Though Cotton has a powerful voice her song sounds lifeless and flat. It may be the way the song was written or maybe it was opening night jitters, but the song could be better.
Chachi (Estevan Valdez) and Joanie’s relationship is also a disappointment. The two have no chemistry together. They are supposed to be young, shy and kind of awkward, but Chachi doesn’t seem to like Joanie at all. His body language does not show that he likes her any better than the other girls on the stage.
Overall, a great play that is enjoyable and worth going to see.
Reach staff reporter Frances Vega here.