“Happy Days” is open at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers.
Let’s hope that the title of the show is an omen for live theater which has not seen many happy days since mid-March last year — the year that everyone hopes is gone for good.
With 18 players wearing plastic face shields, clever set by Dominic Lee, direction and choreography by Amy Marie McCleary, and music directed by Loren Strickland, the show went on with Richie Cunningham (Jonathan Acorn) his family and friends at Arnold’s in Milwaukee where the popular television show was set for so many happy days.
It is some years later and Arnold’s is in danger of being shuttered by progress. His shake shop will be demolished and replaced with a parking lot and mall.
But not if his die-hard customers like Richie Cunningham (Acorn), his parents Marian (Heather Setzler), Howard (Marc Ciemiewicz), fellow members of Mr. C’s Leopard Lodge, and Mrs. C’s friends have anything to do with it.
Of course sister Joanie Cunningham (Amy Fenicle) and pals Potzie Webber (Michael Metkewski), Ralph Malph (Michael Corey Hassel) and Arthur Fonzerelli will help.
It is years later and while the Fonz still has his motorcycle, it is years later and some of the cool has worn off as well as his courage thanks to an old injury.
When members of the Leopards suggest that the Fonz can take on a gang by himself in a fundraising match, the Fonz has other ideas. This is not the Henry Winkler Fonz from the old TV show but then, it is not that easy to find a Henry Winkler type with a masters degree in drama from Yale University — especially all these years later.
This Fonz has put on a few pounds and his false bravado is a bit more false. “Happy Days” fans of the 1959-era TV show knew that even that Fonz was not really such a tough guy.
Pinkie Toscadero (Danielle Monch) is still in the picture as well as Arnold (Frank Hughes) plus additional Leopards, carhops and others playing multiple roles. Because of the pandemic and despite all the precautions taken by the Palm to protect everyone, including cast members as this pandemic wears on, there is an extensive list of understudies.
Like the Venice Theatre which did extensive studies of the pandemic situation before reopening to smaller audiences and with stringent rules in place for cast, crew and audience, the owners of the Broadway Palm, have done their homework.
They removed what seems like about half the tables and then made sure the remaining tables are safely distanced one from the other, There are no mixed parties at any of the tables. Temperatures are taken before one is admitted and there are no paper tickets.
Instead, your name is at the check-in desk and designated ushers are ready to escort your party to your table. Masks must be worn to enter the theater and anytime one is not actually eating or drinking since this is a dinner theater.
Once dinner is over, masks are to be put back on. Servers wear masks and gloves. Soup and salad and rolls are brought to the table. If one chooses the buffet, a server will fill the plate so that no one other than employees touch the serving plates. Desserts are pre-plated. Table service of entrees is offered for Friday and Saturday dinner shows and includes prime rib, chicken cordon bleu and shrimp scampi or similar.
The buffet has as many choices as it did pre-pandemic. The only thing missing is the hot fudge but then no one by me would notice that.
The main thing is it was good to be back at the area’s only dinner theater once again with the cast members giving their all to entertain and the staff members doing their all to keep everyone safe.
“Happy Days” continues through Feb. 14.
Additional shows are scheduled in the smaller Off Broadway Palm venue as well as special concerts and children’s theater.
“The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan: On Your Feet” a new Broadway musical, opens Feb. 18 and is scheduled to play through April 10. The theater is at 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers. For ticket prices, performance times and other information, go to: Broadwaypalm.com.