Happy Days as TV hit becomes stage musical

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A show originally called Cool whose script sat on a TV studio shelf and eventually became worldwide TV hit Happy Days is being revived as a stage musical.

The show’s creator, Garry Marshall, was in Britain recently to see the premiere of Happy Days – A New Musical, which is coming to Sheffield Lyceum next month.

Heidi Range in Happy Days

Heidi Range in Happy Days

He reminisced about the beginnings of the show which first appeared on US TV 40 years ago this month.

Garry, who also created Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley and The Odd Couple and directed the film Pretty Woman, was working at Paramount as a scriptwriter.

He remembers: “My first show was 99th in the ratings so I only had up to go!

“They wanted a show that would do well in reruns. I used to write for the Dick Van Dyke Show. Mary Tyler Moore’s dresses didn’t look good in reruns and they were out of date, so I thought I’ll do something that’s period.

“I created what I thought would be not a reality show but a fantasy show, idealistic but not too sentimental.”

Garry added: “It was based on the characters I knew from the Bronx. Richie was like someone from church. I was like Potsie, all mixed up and not doing too well.

“I wanted to make a family who you hoped your family would be.”

However, it didn’t get the go-ahead. “It got put on the shelf but if you wait and believe in things, it happens.

“Then came a miracle with the films Grease and American Graffiti. Somebody at the network said, ‘we have that show about the 50s. Garry did that one, where is it?’

Garry was looking for a tall Italian to play the Fonz: “Instead I found a very short Jewish fella who went to Yale.

“I put him in the costume and suddenly Henry Winkler created a character that was just wonderful.

“I put him in the show with almost no lines, just ‘ay’ and ‘wo’. Then the network said, ‘why don’t you give him some lines and take away the guttural sounds’? I said, ‘why don’t we do both’?

“We created one of the iconic TV characters in Fonzie.”

He said that the original name, Cool, was dropped because TV audiences didn’t like it, so they went for something upbeat and nostalgic.

Garry revealed that more of his creations may end up on stage. He said: “Everything is a musical now! Paramount holds the rights to everything. There has been a lot of talk about Mork and Mindy the musical.”

Former Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker plays Mrs Cunningham in the musical. She has fond memories of the TV show.

Cheryl said she turns down lots of show offers. “As soon as my agent rang about Happy Days I said yes. My agent said, ‘But you don’t know anything about it’. I said, ‘I don’t care’. It was such an important part of my life and I loved it.

“You would rush home from school and sit in front of the TV because you knew Happy Days was coming on. I wanted to do Happy Days because of nostalgia.

“Fonzie was such a strong character and very funny but Mrs Cunningham was the heart and looked after everyone and was the person everyone could come to.

“I’m a bit like her with the cast. Some would say I’m a nuisance!”

There is a reminder of that Eurovision moment from the Buck’s Fizz song, Making Your Mind Up.

Cheryl said: “Like when I appeared in Footloose, there is a skirt ripping-off moment.

“That iconic piece of Eurovision TV, wherever I go, people want to see it repeated.

“It works very well in this show, it actually works with the script. The song is about trying to break a mum from the chains of her own making. She wants to be bigger and bolder than she’s allowed to be.”

Emmerdale star Ben Freeman has had the unenviable task of becoming the Fonz, something he admitted was nerve-wracking. He has had lots of advice from Henry Winkler, who is a creative consultant for the musical.

Ben said: “At the same time as being a brand new show, there’s obviously real nods to the characters. They are bigger than the show, up there with James Dean and Elvis. They are characters in their own right.

“It has been really hard to find my own way into this role. I found it quite difficult.”

Former Sugababe Heidi Range is making her musical theatre debut as Fonz’s love interest, feisty Pinky Tuscadero.

She said: “I’m just absolutely loving it. I love every minute of it. It’s quite different to what I’ve done before in my pop career. I love being part of this great family.”

Happy Days – A New Musical, with an original score written by Bugsy Malone Oscar winner Paul Williams, is at the Lyceum from February 17 to 22.

Box office: at the Crucible, call 0114 2496000 or go online to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Go to The Star website to see a video interview with Cheryl Baker