Now I’m not usually the kind of person who walks into a theatre simply expecting a good show, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for something pretty good when I sat down at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, to watch Happy Days: A New Musical. As an avid fan of the Channel 4 series The Sound of Musicals, I had been following these UK tour plans for several months being teased by snippets of good music and enchanted by sweetheart producer Amy Anzel. After following the show’s Twitter account and booking my tickets I was anticipating something that may have the potential for a successful West End transfer.
I had the pleasure of being able to see the very first performance of the musical on Saturday 11th January, which meant a delightful appearance from Amy herself to introduce the tour. But the real delight was the fact that I paid just £20 for my ticket, affirming my view that it’s worth the risk seeing musicals during previews. Despite a few minor first night glitches (a few forgotten words from an ex-Bucks Fizzer and a missed cue from the lovestruck leads) the show ran smoothly proving it can’t hurt to pay less for such a new production.
However, there was something missing from the start and I hate to say that it was a decent plot. The story seemed to mirror recent West End victim Rock of Ages with the beloved Arnold’s diner facing closure and the characters rallying round to save it. Just like Rock of Ages, the soundtrack reigns supreme while the story goes off on a rather disappointing tangent, building to a wrestling match at a picnic being the potential saviour a diner. I’m not 1950s Milwaukee teen but even I’d say that’s slightly odd.
To make matters worse the script is littered with weak jokes and nods to the original Happy Days television program which have little effect. There’s nothing wrong with this but they made the mistake of doing it, well…badly. With the majority of the audience being part of the tv show’s era, you’d expect more than a small titter at the references, but that was all they got.
I understand that a musical this fresh in its tour has to be allowed room to grow, but you cannot rewrite almost an entire script which sadly is what this musical needs. That may sound harsh but this is said out of love for a great score. The musical has everything going for it except a strong storyline to take you through a strong soundtrack.
When I say strong I mean very strong. Paul Williams’ music is by far the best thing going for this show. Lively, well-crafted songs and smooth transitions between them and the dialogue. I came out of the theatre humming ‘Snap’ and of course the Happy Days theme which has been really well adapted for stage.
I cannot fault the company either. I was sceptical about the casting of several celebrity leads as I have had bad experiences before, notably with Gareth Gates in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. But they came through and produced performances almost on par with seasoned West End stage schoolers. Although I must highlight one of the ensemble, Katie Monks. My whole group agreed that it was impossible to stop looking at her. A really engaging performer who successfully managed to avert our eyes from Ben Freeman for nearly a whole number – no easy feat.
You may think I have jumped in too soon. All reviews I have read so far seem to follow the same pattern; thin plot with good songs. I am yet to see a review from any major publication which makes me question the show’s prospects for Amy’s much wanted West End transfer. It is a shame as the musical has such potential. If the plot can be tweaked it may still have a chance but it’s a big ask. The show is still entertaining and will surely satisfy Happy Days fans. The question is will it continue to entice new fans and my answer to that is, I’m really not sure. I would recommend it but would only rate it three stars.