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West Point theater to bring ‘Happy Days’ to stage

Locals hone skills for musical adaptation

By Matthew Strother

mstrother@civitasmedia.com

Brian Green as Richie Cunningham, left, narrates and sings along with the cast of ‘Happy Days’ during rehearsal at New Horizon Community Theatre in West Point. The show begins Thursday.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/04/web1_0403NHCT01.jpgBrian Green as Richie Cunningham, left, narrates and sings along with the cast of ‘Happy Days’ during rehearsal at New Horizon Community Theatre in West Point. The show begins Thursday.

Matthew Strother | Daily News

Rick Adams as Al, owner of Arnold’s restaurant, interrupts the dance number to close up shop during a rehearsal for ‘Happy Days’ at New Horizon Community Theatre.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/04/web1_0403NHCT02.jpgRick Adams as Al, owner of Arnold’s restaurant, interrupts the dance number to close up shop during a rehearsal for ‘Happy Days’ at New Horizon Community Theatre.

Matthew Strother | Daily News

Cast members practice their 1950s dance moves on stage at New Horizon Community Theatre for the upcoming show ‘Happy Days,’ based on the TV show.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/04/web1_0403NHCT03.jpgCast members practice their 1950s dance moves on stage at New Horizon Community Theatre for the upcoming show ‘Happy Days,’ based on the TV show.

Matthew Strother | Daily News

Brian Green as Richie Cunningham, left, narrates and sings along with the cast of ‘Happy Days’ during rehearsal at New Horizon Community Theatre in West Point. The show begins Thursday.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/04/web1_web0403NHCT01.jpgBrian Green as Richie Cunningham, left, narrates and sings along with the cast of ‘Happy Days’ during rehearsal at New Horizon Community Theatre in West Point. The show begins Thursday.

Matthew Strother | Daily News

Rick Adams as Al, owner of Arnold’s restaurant, interrupts the dance number to close up shop during a rehearsal for ‘Happy Days’ at New Horizon Community Theatre.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/04/web1_web0403NHCT02.jpgRick Adams as Al, owner of Arnold’s restaurant, interrupts the dance number to close up shop during a rehearsal for ‘Happy Days’ at New Horizon Community Theatre.

Matthew Strother | Daily News

Cast members practice their 1950s dance moves on stage at New Horizon Community Theatre for the upcoming show ‘Happy Days,’ based on the TV show.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2016/04/web1_web0403NHCT03.jpgCast members practice their 1950s dance moves on stage at New Horizon Community Theatre for the upcoming show ‘Happy Days,’ based on the TV show.

Matthew Strother | Daily News

WEST POINT — Audiences in West Point may see something familiar in the upcoming stage show by New Horizon Community Theatre.

The theater will present the musical “Happy Days,” based on the eponymous ’70s TV show, starting Thursday. The show will feature community actors from Pine Mountain, LaGrange, West Point and into Alabama from Valley, Lanett and Opelika.

Brian Green of LaGrange plays Richie Cunningham, the character made popular by Ron Howard on the TV show. Green is no stranger to the stage.

“I was (movie character) Beetlejuice in Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Review at Universal Studios Orlando,” he said. “I did that coming out of high school for a summer. I just kind of stumbled upon it, went in and acted like a goofball in the audition and they decided that they’d like to have me.”

Green has been a regular in musicals at NHCT, as well as the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts in LaGrange.

“I like the atmosphere more with musicals, because you get everybody and they’re forced to be happy on stage, y’know?” Green said. “… It makes it interesting to see everybody’s comedic timing as well as vocal ability.”

Rick Adams of Pine Mountain also has a serious acting background, having taught theater for about 40 years in Miami, Florida. However, he was modest about how he got the role of Al, owner of the Arnold’s restaurant, the young characters’ favorite hangout.

“I got a phone call because I have this look,” he said with a laugh, pointing out his similarity to Al Molinaro, who played the character on the TV show. “The truth is that the actor who played this role on TV, his only other claim to fame was he played Murray in ‘The Odd Couple.’ And three seasons ago I was Murray at the Springer theater (in Columbus), so I’m out of roles because those were his only two roles.”

Eddie Lanier of Lanett plays Richie’s dad, Howard. An NHCT board member, Lanier is stretching his legs, stepping onto the stage for the third time instead of working only behind the scenes.

“We have a good time,” he said, noting the amount of collaboration the theater gets from the area. “… It’s all local cast members, all volunteers. It’s truly a community theater.”

The theater has undergone major renovations over the past couple of years. A funding campaign drew contributions that allowed the theater to expand its modest space at 411 W. 8th St. and create a new stage with backstage dressing area, raised stage, auditorium-style seating, new lighting and sound equipment and a digital marquee.

“We’ve been working hard to get this theater to the point where it’s like this with new seats and a marquee,” Lanier said. “… A lot of contributions were from local people.”

Director Bill Nixon was also grateful for the extra space to help fit 36 people on stage for the musical. He called the show a “triple threat,” because everyone involved has to act, sing and dance. The acting part is more challenging because of the show’s TV show roots.

“What we told the cast right off the bat, is that most shows that you do … you could take any male and put them out there and they can be ‘Jimmy’ or whoever. ‘Happy Days’ — people wanna see Potsie … when you say Fonzie’s walking out, they know what to expect. … So, we usually encourage them not to watch a movie if we’re doing a play that’s been a movie. This one, I told them watch all the episodes of the TV show they could find.”

However, it’s that familiarity with the source material that Nixon is counting on to help draw people to the theater and enjoy the show. Many of the audience members for New Horizon’s tend to be people who would’ve grown up watching 1970s sitcoms like “Happy Days.” Those who aren’t familiar should find the show as something new to enjoy, he added.

The musical was written by original show-runner Gary Marshall, but it doesn’t draw from a specific episode, Nixon said. It features mostly original music composed by Paul Williams, whose music has been used by artists like Elvis Presley, Diamond Rio and Three Dog Night, along with numerous movies.

“It’s a flashback to the past, everybody’s favorite sitcom that they grew up watching,” Green said. “It’s all local talent. Just volunteer actors. It shows what kind of talent this area has to come together and put something to this extreme. It’s a pretty tall order because everybody has these characters in their head from watching them all those years ago. If you don’t do it right, they’re not going to like it, but I think we do it right.”

New Horizon Community Theatre presents “Happy Days” Thursday, April 7, to April 9 at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on April 9. Tickets may be purchased online at www.nhct.org.

Matthew Strother is the editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.