The year was 1974. Watergate, a looming oil crisis and a major economic downturn dominated American headlines. And one of the most popular new shows on television was a charming new sitcom called Happy Days. Each week, audiences would set aside their worries to laugh along with Richie, Fonzie and their pals. It may not have been brain surgery, but it was a welcome distraction.
So it seems only fitting that legendary writer/director Garry Marshall would launch his newest project Happy Days – A New Musical during these uncertain times.
“I grew up with the show,” said Felicia Finley, who plays Pinky Tuscadero in the musical, which is now playing at Tennessee Performing Arts Center. “But I remember the gas lines and all the economic problems from the ’70s. It’s interesting that [Happy Days] would surface during this downturn. It’s like people need a break.”
Series creator Garry Marshall wrote Happy Days – A New Musical, with music and lyrics by Academy Award-winning composer Paul Williams. In the stage version, the gang teams up to save Arnold’s drive-in malt shop from demolition, with a dance contest – and a welcome dose of nostalgia.
“It’s almost like two hours of sketch comedy,” said Finley, an accomplished singer who recently released her debut CD Great Mood for a Tuesday. “The Malachi Brothers are hilarious, the music and choreography are terrific, and you can bring the whole family. How many shows can you say that about?”
And how many shows can transform an ancillary character into a bona fide leading lady?
“Pinky was actually in only three episodes of the original show,” Finley said. “She was hot, but there wasn’t much else to the character, so we really had to look at how to bring her to life. It’s been an interesting process but a lot of fun.”
Alas, this weekend marks Finley’s final performances as Pinky. She is leaving the show to join the cast of the new musical Catch Me If You Can in June.
“I’ve been with the show for two years, and I feel very lucky to have been part of this experience,” she said. “And to work with Garry Marshall — that’s something I’ll always treasure.”
What: <i>Happy Days – A New Musical</i>
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays through May 10
Where: Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall, 505 Deaderick St.
Cost: Tickets start at $22.50
Info: Tickets available at the TPAC Box Office in downtown Nashville, at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in the Mall at Green Hills and at all Ticketmaster outlets. Call 255-ARTS, or visit tpac.org/happydays or ticketmaster.com.