Richie Cunningham, the Fonz, Ralph Malph — all these characters and more will take the stage in Paul VI’s upcoming, rock-and-roll musical, "Happy Days."
Show times are Friday-Saturday, April 15-16, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 17, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15, adults; and $10, students and senior citizens, at the door or via email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The cast and crew of 50 have been rehearsing since January. "Everyone’s doing a great job and having a lot of fun," said Director Katherine Miller. "The TV show was such a part of our culture that’s so familiar that it’s like putting on an old pair of comfy shoes. But this play is brand new and hasn’t yet been to Broadway and, as far as I know, we’re the first school in Fairfax County to do it."
In the story, Arnold’s Diner is being bought out by a greedy corporation that’s going to turn it into a "newfangled thing" called a mall. So to raise money to save Arnold’s, there’s a 1950s TV wrestling match pitting Richie and Ralph against the evil Malachi brothers.
The sets will depict Arnold’s, the Cunningham home and the auto garage where Fonzie works, including a vintage Cadillac. Miller says the "Happy Days" theme song will get stuck in audience members’ heads, and there’s even a musical number in which 41 toilet plungers figure prominently.
Theater moms put together the costumes and dads built the sets with the students.
Junior Daniel Rozmajzl portrays Richie. "He’s not a nerd, but is the quintessential good kid," said Rozmajzl. "He’s a rule-follower, is bright and has good morals. He’s a natural character to get into because he’s the average Joe, so there’s a lot you can do with the role. It’s my first lead so I have more responsibility, but I now see how important my smaller roles were before."
His favorite song is "Run" because it’s "upbeat and energetic, with lots of personality. I sing it with a singing group in the show called the Dialtones." Rozmajzl says this play’s "a great way of bringing back something that was so popular. But it’s universally enjoyable — adults will remember the TV show and teens will identify with the plot."
Playing Fonzie is senior Jake Miller, who’ll don a black-leather jacket and dye his hair black for the role. "He’s the iconic character from the show and the ultimate cool guy," said Miller. "He gets all the ladies and is tough on the outside, but also has a softer side. He’s a high-school drop-out, but is Richie’s friend and idol."
It’s challenging, said Miller, because he has to portray Fonzie exactly like on TV, so people won’t be disappointed. "But he’s the one everyone remembers from the show and he has a lot of fun songs," said Miller. "I’ve never played a tough guy, so it’s a change of pace."
He especially likes the number, "Snap," because it’s "the most fast-paced and peppy of my songs and has finger-snapping with girl backup singers." He said this play "encompasses the feel of the original show" and will be enjoyable for audiences of all ages.
Senior Alexa Bechara plays Pinky Tuscadero. "She’s the female version of Fonzie — pink, in-your-face and always out-and-about," said Bechara. "She’s tomboyish, but sassy and with sex appeal. She wants things to be serious with Fonzie, but they’re both such independent people that it’s hard for her to tame him. She also relates to Marion Cunningham, the stay-at-home mom, and admires that family lifestyle she doesn’t have."
Bechara likes her role because Pinky gets to "break out and be spontaneous. Everybody loves her, she’s strong and she gets the guy everyone wants." Bechara’s favorite number is "What I Dreamed Last Night, Part II" in which Marion, her daughter Joanie, and Pinky sing about having everything they’ve always wanted.
"It’s awesome singing it together because it’s really powerful," said Bechara.
Katie Hoppe, a 1999 Lake Braddock grad, is the play’s fight choreographer. She started learning her craft in 1996 and loved it so much that she now holds Actor Combatant status from the Society for American Fight Directors. That qualifies her to fight professionally with a broad sword and in unarmed combat and to teach these things to theater classes.
"I know the moves and how to do them safely," she said. "I choreographed the fight between Richie and Fonzie and the Malachi brothers. It’s funny and serious, at the same time, and these kids are amazing. They learned the choreography almost immediately. And it’s a testament to Mrs. Miller that they’re this disciplined and focused."
Hoppe’s brother Greg has Down Syndrome and has been in every PVI musical since he started in the school’s Options Program, six years ago. Although he’s graduated, he still participates and is in this show because he loves theater so much.
"I love working with the PVI kids," said Hoppe. "And for what this school’s done for my brother, I’m thrilled to be able to give back."