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Theater review: ‘Happy Days: A New Musical’ at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza

October 28, 2010 |  4:45 pm

Pinky and Fonzie With the flick of a switchblade comb and a thump on the diner jukebox, the retro-style tunes are off and spinning in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s homegrown revival of “Happy Days: A New Musical.”

No surprises here — the show affectionately evokes the innocent, idealized vision of late 1950s Americana portrayed in the hit TV show that ran from  1974–1984. 

With book by series creator Garry Marshall and songs by pop composer Paul Williams, this 2006 musical plays like a typical innocuous episode revolving around Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli: When local hangout Arnold’s Diner is threatened with demolition, Fonzie (Derek Keeling) is forced into unaccustomed self-reflection and learns a humbling lesson in community values. 

Unfortunately, Keeling comes nowhere close to filling Henry Winkler’s iconic leather jacket. His squeaky-clean Fonzie is devoid of rough edges or underlying authority (even his signature snaps lack the requisite snap). Instead, most of the show’s sizzle and charisma come from superb singer-hoofer Misty Cotton as independent-minded stunt rider Pinky Tuscadero, the once-and-future  love interest whose return to Milwaukee only adds to Fonzie’s momentary crisis. 

Director Susan Morgenstern generally captures the right breezy tone in the performances, although the villainous Malachi brothers seem to have incongruously wandered in from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. John Charron’s choreography too often settles for “similar” movement instead of whipping the  ensemble into a precision instrument. 

A tight, well-balanced live orchestra under Lloyd Cooper’s direction delivers Williams’ agreeable character-advancing period pop and rock score, which sports some nifty four-part harmonies. By and large Williams sticks to safe, predictable territory with one exception: the charming post-feminist “What I Dreamed Last Night,” in which frustrated housewife “Mrs. C.” (the excellent Tracy Lore) envisions a bigger life, while an envious Pinky yearns for that linoleum palace behind the Cunningham’s picket fence.

-– Philip Brandes

“Happy Days: A New Musical,” Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 31. $30-$76. (800) 745-3000 or Ticketmaster. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: Misty Cotton and Derek Keeling. Credit: Ed Krieger.