Original Cast

Happy Days (The Arena Mega Musical)

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From the moment you hear the collective cast of what sounds like at least 60 people singing the Happy Days theme song en masse, you should guess what this CD and the musical behind it are about, and you might be tempted to ask, "Why?" But if some enterprising Broadway producer could turn Legally Blonde into a musical that eked out over 500 performances, then you might imagine that using the TV series Happy Days -- which ran for a decade -- as the basis for a stage musical isn't as bizarre as it sounds. In truth, the series created and produced by Garry Marshall was even more popular overseas -- where American popular culture commands enormous mystique -- than it ever was in the United States. And apparently, the series was so heartily embraced by Australian audiences that in the late '90s this stage production resulted. To judge from the contents of the CD and the notes, the show, such as it is, isn't much more than an excuse to program over two dozen well-known vintage 1950s and 1960s rock & roll and R&B songs, associated with everyone from Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley to Lesley Gore. The arrangements are suited to the arena setting in which this work has been staged, so that means big-band-style oldies in terms of proportion and sound -- there are some good performances on the CD, so far as the singing goes, but in a work like this, as one would expect, there's not a lot of room for subtlety. (With characters named Richie, Ralph, Potsie, and the Fonz, one is not dealing with a book that could be confused with the work of, say, Alan Jay Lerner.) Nor would anyone attending a stage work based on Happy Days likely expect (or want) something that could be compared to Harold Pinter -- think mega-production of Grease (complete with a guest appearance by original TV series star Tom Bosley), and that's what one is buying. And none of this means that the CD isn't a lot of fun, which it is -- as one might easily conclude about the musical Happy Days itself, since it has enjoyed a long and successful run in its country of origin (i.e., Australia -- not the U.S.A., where it apparently has never been produced). The music is all arranged in the best modern theatrical manner, combining the lavish backgrounds of a theatrical band with the intimacy of cabaret performances. Thus, it can be enjoyed on its own terms, separate from (or from one ever having seen) the actual play.

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