REVIEW: Happy Days, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, April 19

Heidi Range in Happy Days
Heidi Range in Happy Days
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ARE Happy Days here again?

Judging by this show, only partially.

There’s a lot to like about this new stage version of the classic American sitcom which plays on our penchant for nostalgia, but it failed to conjure up the warmth and charm of its namesake show.

Like the TV series, much of the action centres around Arnold’s diner which, in this adaptation, is under threat from developers. Cue the old gang - The Fonz, Richie, Ralph Malph, Potsie et al - teaming up to save their favourite burger joint in a plot that was teetering on the brink of saccharine.

A cleverly inventive folding set, drenched in vibrant colour, and twirling A-line skirts and bobby socks help to create an air of Americana and, as a fan of the original, it was entertaining to see new life being breathed into much-loved familiar characters.

Ben Freeman was perfectly capable as the preened-to-perfection Fonz, his acting as slick as his hair. He wasn’t quite as likeable as Henry Winkler’s version, but then they are some tough biker boots to fill.

Heidi Range has the luxury of being able to develop one of the show’s lesser-known characters, Pinky Tuscadero. Unlike The Fonz, this isn’t a character ingrained in pop culture, and Heidi did a sterling job of portraying a sassy heroine who sashays across the stage with a walk that demands attention.

Also notable is her vocal talent. In her first major stage role, she displayed a rich, warm tone that hadn’t always been given a chance to shine in her Sugababes days.

While the first half was a little slow to get going, the second half had a better pace and energy and, thankfully, we got to see more from Cheryl Baker as homely Mrs Cunningham and even a cheeky nod to her Eurovision days - one in only a handful of laugh-out-loud moments in the show.

Ensemble dance routines were enthusiastically performed and the music certainly fitted the piece, but none of the numbers were as infectious as the theme tune, which I found myself waiting to be performed.

It featured in the finale, which was a standout moment in the show, as audience members rose to their feet to sway along with this rose-tinted ode to the ‘50s.

While the show is served with a side of corn, as expected from Happy Days, I just expected more magic from a meal at Arnold’s.