Friday, January 13, 2012

REVIEW: The Fonz makes ‘happy days’ at Manatee Players

Bringing one of the most iconic, super-cool characters in sitcom history to the stage and making him sing would surely be disastrous without the right actor.

Fortunately, for the Manatee Players, Travis Rogers turns in an Aaaay-plus performance as the Fonz in the Bradenton community theater company’s production of “Happy Days: A New Musical,” which opened Thursday.

He has the hair, jeans, leather jacket and that all important swagger.

Rogers recreates every signature gesture and catch phrase with nearly the same streetwise élan that made Henry Winkler a star.

He also sings in a manly manner while still managing to emote his feelings for Pinky, who is played by Taylor Elizabeth with winning sass, charm and vulnerability.

Paul Williams’ bouncy melodies are brought to life by the ace seven-piece band led by conductor/keyboard player Rick Bogner. The famed singer/songwriter’s lyrics aren’t exactly memorable but they propel the story develop the characters as needed.

As for the book, “Happy Days” creator Garry Marshall wrote it, giving the dialogue many of the same hallmarks of the hit TV show.

But not all the jokes work.

No matter how well some lines are delivered by the capable cast they just sit in the air as if waiting to be rescued by a laugh track.

As for the plot, well, it’s predictable and ridiculous and exactly what you’d expect from a musical version of “Happy Days,” the sitcom that made the world look pretty much perfect during the Eisenhower Era.

The gang’s main hangout, Arnold’s, is going to be demolished to make room for something called a mall. The plan is to prevent its destruction by raising funds with a dance contest and wrestling match that will be televised.

The major second act dilemma boils down to whether The Fonz will overcome his “weak” knee and save the day by beating the bad-guy Malachi brothers (Matthew Boerner and Tyler Johnson).

The Manatee Players’ production is silly fun marked by Rogers’ wonderful homage to Winkler.

—Photo of Travis Rogers as The Fonz by PAUL VIDELA/

Details: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Jan. 12-29, Riverfront Theatre, 102 Old Main St., Bradenton. Tickets: $25/$11 (students) Information: 941-748-5875 or

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