The Fonz is back in town, and this time he’ll be singing and dancing his way into the hearts of audiences at the Arizona Broadway Theatre (ABT).
Opening on Friday, Aug. 26 and running through Sunday, Sept. 18, “Happy Days: The New Musical” rekindles memories of the ’50s and the sitcom “Happy Days,” which ran for 11 seasons — 1974 to 1984.
Actors Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Scott Baio, Marion Ross and Tom Bosley made their way into family rooms, while the show spawned “Laverne and Shirley,” “Mork and Mindy” and “Joanie Loves Chachi.”
The musical version brings back many of the favorite characters, including the Cunningham family, Fonzie, Pinkie, Potsie and Ralph.
It takes the audience back to 1959 Milwaukee. The drive-in malt shop, Arnold’s, is in danger of being demolished, so the “Happy Days” gang hosts a dance contest and wrestling match to save the beloved hangout.
With all new music, “Happy Days” captures the jukebox feel of the 1950s, a time of sock hops and hoop skirts. ABT favorite Stephen Hohendorf plays the part of Richie Cunningham, the innocent teenager who is always looking out for his friends.
“It’s the nostalgia of the ’50s,” Hohendorf said. “I was very close with my grandmother, so seeing the era that she grew up in (made the show memorable). The characters are just fun, and who didn’t want to be the Fonz when they were growing up?”
Hohendorf said the musical captures the feel of the sitcom because the book is written by the TV series’ creator, Garry Marshall, with music by Oscar-winner Paul Williams.
“It’s all your favorite characters from the series in it,” Hohendorf said. “But they also sing and dance because it is a musical. There are lots of fun dance numbers, including the dance concert. It reads a lot like an episode of the TV show that never aired.”
Hohendorf has enjoyed digging into the character of Richie, the sometimes-middle child, sometimes-oldest child in the Cunningham family. (His older brother, Chuck, disappeared after two seasons with no explanation ever given in the TV series.)
Richie was created as a wholesome teenager of the ’50s who often had a wide-eyed approach to the world.
“He looks out for his friends,” Hohendorf said. “He’s goal oriented. He has aspirations to see the world and to be a journalist and to report about what he finds.”
Songwriter Williams has had a storied career writing some of the biggest hits of the 1970s, including “An Old-Fashioned Love Song” for Three Dog Night, “You and Me Against the World” for Helen Reddy, “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” for the Carpenters, “Evergreen” for Barbra Streisand, and “Rainbow Connection” for “The Muppet Movie.”
Hohendorf described Williams’ music for “Happy Days: The New Musical” as being very catchy and in the style of the ’50s and ’60s, but with modern twists. Richie and his friends are part of a singing group called the Dial Tones, who sing four-part ’50s harmonies.
ABT’s technical artists have created a set that looks like the soundstage of the TV show, which was shot on Studio 19. The main set is Arnold’s malt shop, and then pieces fly in and out throughout the musical.
“It’s a total replica from the TV show,” Hohendorf said. “Looking at these pictures of the Cunningham kitchen and then going to see what’s in the scene shop is incredible. It’s an exact replica.”
While the show directly appeals to its fans and those who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, Hohendorf said that the younger set is equally likely to enjoy it.
“The reason that the TV show was so successful is that the characters are so realistic, down to earth and relatable for really anyone, even in today’s society,” Hohendorf said.
“It’s just a lot of fun. The world is crazy right now, so why not come and see a show and reminisce about a simpler time and be transported back in time?”
On Wednesday, Aug. 31, ABT will host a masterclass connected with “Happy Days.” Lauran Stanis will teach dance warmups, dance technique and choreography from ABT’s production of “Happy Days.” Dance experience is helpful, but not required. Stanis has choreographed for theaters around the Valley, and is a teaching artist at Childsplay and a dance teacher at Metro Tech High School. She is the choreographer for this production of “Happy Days” at ABT.
The class is free, but there are limited spots, so anyone interested must register online. The Monday masterclass runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and is open to those ages 12 to 30.
While there were many restrictions during the pandemic at ABT, Hohendorf said they are pretty much back to full capacity and full dinner service.
“It’s really just a quality dining experience and an exceptional Broadway quality show as well,” Hohendorf said.
“Happy Days: The New Musical” ends a season that started with “Chicago” and continued with an eclectic mix of shows that included “Game Show,” “Flashdance,” “Ghost” and “Gypsy.”
“That’s why ABT is so great, because not every musical is for every person, but there is a musical out there for everyone,” Hohendorf said.
The coming season launches with “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and continues with “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” “Mame,” “Escape to Margaritaville,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Disaster!”
“We’d love to see you at ‘Happy Days,’” Hohendorf said, issuing an invitation to Phoenix audiences. “And if not ‘Happy Days,’ we’ve got a really incredible season coming up. ABT is a staple in the Peoria community. If you haven’t checked it out before, what are you waiting for?”