‘Happy Days’ delights with 1950s nostalgia

Published 10:11 am Monday, July 15, 2013

Column: Stage Right, by Cindy Fjermestad

Old hangouts, old clothes, old friends? My nostalgia is rich and satisfying! In my memory, it all looks wonderful. The reality of my old school pictures tells a different story.

Cindy Fjermestad

Cindy Fjermestad

Take heart! “Happy Days, a New Musical” is playing through July 20, at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center in Albert Lea. It is an excursion back to Milwaukee 1959. It is nostalgia at its best and a visit to the past that won’t disappoint you at all!

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Arnold’s Diner is slated to be torn down and replaced by — horrors — a mall and a restaurant with some guy named Denny something! We all know how that story will play out, but for a little over two hours it is our pleasure to be transported to the past to see a community come together to save their beloved hangout! The plot resolution will involve the Cunningham family, the Leopard Lodge, the wrestling Malachis, a bake sale, and, of course, The Fonz. Every aspect of the scheme is a joy to experience!

The play is based on the book written by Garry Marshall, the original producer of the TV sitcom “Happy Days.” He has mined the late ’50s for dozens of spot-on cultural references. We baby boomers will catch them, and the younger crowd will be immersed in the everyday experiences of their parents and grandparents.

Director Steve Kinney has added many unique touches: calendar girls come to life, scenes occur simultaneously, Fonz has a crisis of conscience, and there are excellent uses of ensemble dancers and singers. The set design, also by the talented Steve Kinney, is picture perfect, easily converted for several charming locations. The cast is large, but the stage movement and choreography are fluid and showcase the important parts of each scene. Joyce Matthies has done a fine job in this aspect.

Diane Heaney has performed a dual task for this play as vocal director and as the pitch-perfect Mrs. Cunningham. Some singing is challenging for the local talent, but whatever it may lack in pitch, it makes up for in gusto! The six musicians under the direction of Norrine Jensen add atmosphere and authenticity to the story. What great local talent!

The audience will also enjoy the vintage costumes that have been well-chosen by Barb Lang and Rosalie Truax, right down to the car hops’ hats, the saddle shoes and the aprons. Surely, somebody’s attic is a little cleaner!

All of the cast is strong. Brian Mattson is convincing as the pleasant and low-key Arnold Delvecchio. Diane Heaney as Mrs. Cunningham sings beautifully and wears her house dresses, hats and aprons proudly. Andy Ehrhardt as Richie and his friends Ralph (Lucas George) and Potsie (Travis Nemec) do a fine job with their characters, as do Tony Segura and Sergio Salgado in dual roles as the Malachis and as lodge members.

Other highlights are Emily Troe’s Pinky Tuscadero, whose costume would have caused a stir in the ’50s, but seems tame today. Joni Cunningham played by Danielle Quinn has fewer scenes, but her voice is lovely and she shows all the angst of being a teen, in any era.

A special treat is an appearance by Elvis and James Dean! Matt Larson has fantastic hair and great moves, too, and James Dean is still mysterious. It was great to see them again!

Finally, The Fonz. He can still start the jukebox with a hit of his fist, his finger snaps get immediate results, and all of the girls swoon in his wake. In this story, his heart belongs to Pinky Tuscadero, and we learn a little of his past that creates a more three-dimensional character. Alex Johnson is not as tough and intimidating as The Fonz created by Henry Winkler, but he has a cuteness and charm that makes us root for him to be a hero. All the bad boys wore more hair grease and tighter jeans — at least that’s the way I remember it!

For show times and ticket information, visit www.actonbroadway.com, stop by the theater at box office times, or call the box office at 377-4371.

By the way, Marion Ross is just as adorable as I remember her being! Our heartfelt thanks go to her for supporting this show and our theater in Albert Lea.
Cindy Fjermestad is a retired English teacher from Albert Lea. (The picture is of her in 1957.) She volunteers in the Albert Lea Community Theatre box office, at Naeve Hospital Auxiliary and for Friends of the Library. She is always happy to promote activities that keep our community vibrant.