“Happy Days: The Musical” revives the classic television series that brought the Fonz, Richie Cunningham and Potsie into the homes of millions.
Aaron Arseneault, 19, of Glendale portrays Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli and remembers that he used to watch reruns of the TV show as a kid before he rode the bus to school.
“I liked it a lot because the characters were great and the stories had good messages to them,” Arseneault said.
The musical, which makes its Arizona premiere at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria, toured at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium two years ago. The rights recently became available to local theaters, so CSYT Artistic Director Jim Gradillas decided to produce “Happy Days” after it was suggested by the show’s director, Jason Washburn.
“I thought it would be great to end our season with something the whole family could come to — a play that’s fun and nostalgic,” Gradillas said.
Gradillas compares it to another well-known Broadway show.
“If you’ve seen ‘Grease’ before, then you’ll love ‘Happy Days’ because it has that same kind of feel to it,” he said.
The plot revolves around the kids’ plans to save their hangout, Arnold’s, from demolition by hosting a dance contest and wrestling match.
All of the classic characters from the show are present.
In 2007, a professional regional theater premiered “Happy Days,” which was written by the TV show’s producer, Gary Marshall. But the production skipped Broadway and headed out on a national tour, which launched in Tempe at ASU’s Gammage Auditorium.
Washburn said he suggested “Happy Days” because many theater companies have been performing such rock ‘n’ roll musicals as “Hairspray,” “Grease” and “Bye Bye Birdie” over the last several years.
“I thought it would be great to do something different in the same genre that’s not repeated over and over again,” Washburn said.
Ken Goodenburger, “Happy Days” music director, said he’s excited for people to see the musical that will be performed by a live band, a first for Creative Stages.
“It’s a hodgepodge of everything from that time period from Beach Boys to Janis Joplin-style songs, and they are done well by our excellent cast,” Goodenburger said.
Goodenburger said he’s had fun teaching the cast of children and teenagers a different style of music not normally sung in Broadway shows.
“This is more rock ‘n’ roll, and all of the kids have enjoyed learning the music and they’re going to pull it off well,” Goodenburger said.
When he first auditioned for the musical, Arseneault said he wanted to be Richie because he’s often played the “cool guy” roles.
But he embraced the Fonz when Washburn cast him in the iconic role played by Henry Winkler.
“The Fonz is the ultimate cool guy, so why not play him,” he said.
Kyle Kadel landed the role of Richie and never saw the show until he was cast in the live musical. He dyed his hair to match the TV character, played by Ron Howard.
“I love this musical so far, and high school students and older people can relate to everything that’s going on in the show,” Kadel said.