The main problem with doing a stage production based on a popular film or, in this case, TV series, is that no matter how great the cast and their performances, audiences, familiar with someone else having established the role, knows it’s not really “them.”
Fortunately, most members of the audience at “Happy Days’” opening night didn’t bother comparing Wesley Barlow, Alec West, Katie Rocha, Sea Rush, et. al., to Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, Marion Ross and Tom Bosley, et. al.
There was no need anyway. “Happy Days,” as Calvin Stewart, an observant 7-year-old Bullpup soon to be Owl thanks to school district rezoning, noted, “was a real old show, like from the ‘90s.”
Well, it was really from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but those distant decades do tend to blur together, especially for the younger audience members.
But the Crestview High School drama department’s lively production, running Saturday and Sunday night at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., is a fun romp as enjoyable as the TV show and perhaps even more so thanks to an energetic cast of 37 thespians.
Two performances stuck out on opening night, one that I anticipated and one that was a pleasant surprise.
As returning celebrity Pinky Tuscadero, senior Angeles Alexander gave her high school farewell performance all it’s worth, belting out her numbers, including “Message in the Music” and “Legend in Leather,” with a hint of a young Aretha. We’ll miss her when she graduates next month.
We’ll also miss trooper — or is it trouper? — Wesley Barlow, whose Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli had enough Henry Winkler to satisfy the TV show’s enthusiasts, but lots of Wesley to define the role his own way.
It was Wesley’s performance that surprised me. I looked forward to Angeles’ performance. I didn’t expect Wesley’s to be so superb, and even more impressively, he put it together after the original actor had to drop out of the show as opening curtain loomed increasingly near.
“I didn’t even start with this part,” Wesley said after opening night. “I had to learn the part in three weeks.”
Alec West’s Richie Cunningham was a wonderful study in a high school senior discovering sometimes the world isn’t quite what it should be, while other times it’s refreshingly reliable.
Kudos should also be given to Michael Brooks and Zac Sticha as the Malachi brothers Myron “Count” and Jumpy respectively, whose antics — and Michael’s oversized sombrero — provided loads of laughs whenever the duo hit the stage.
Katie and Sean as Richie Cunningham’s parents were delightfully reliable, even if in his heavy glasses and his hair slicked back, Sean kept reminding me of Corey Feldman in his “Stand By Me” years.
Fans of the show will enjoy the many inside gags — Quinn McCardie, Dyrell Jenkins and Jacob Smith as Potsie, Chachi and Ralph making an entrance while singing the theme to “Laverne and Shirley,” the glossy still of Henry Winkler decorating the wall of Arnold’s malt shop and Joanie commenting, “Fonzie hasn’t been the same since he jumped that shark.”
But fans of any fun, high school in general will love “Happy Days” at Crestview High’s Pearl Tyner Auditorium. After the week’s storms, it’s great to sit back, laugh and sing, “Goodbye grey skies, hello blue.”