Former soap star Ben Freeman continues his love affair with musicals, going on the road this year as The Fonz himself in a new stage version of Happy Days.
The show plays the Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday, January 20-Saturday, January 25 before moving on to the Mayflower, Southampton from Tuesday, February 11-Saturday, February 15.
For Ben, it will bring back happy childhood memories of watching re-runs of the TV series which established the Fonz as the king of cool.
“I used to watch them all the time,” Ben says. “I do remember all the characters. I just loved it. It was fun, and the characters were great. It was a funny, entertaining show, and as a kid growing up, there were lots of characters that you could identify with. I always loved James Dean and Marlon Brando. The Fonz was like a TV version.”
Speaking just before Christmas, Ben admitted he wasn’t quite sure yet which was going to prove his best way into the character.
“I don’t want to do an imitation of (Henry Winkler playing The Fonz), but it is hard not to. He was such a well-defined character. His voice, his costume, everything was so specifically him. It is very difficult to steer away from doing it a certain way, but in a way I am going full circle.
“I started off doing him very close to the TV series, and I was looking at YouTube clips, but then I tried to get away from that. I found that I was just trying to second-guess him, and it ended up like an impersonation. And so I moved away from doing it that way. But now I am moving back towards it again...”
Keeping it different, of course, is the fact that this will be a musical, something the original TV series clearly wasn’t. As Ben says, it is difficult to imagine the king of cool breaking into song: “He was so cool. His expression didn’t change. It was just in the eyes.”
But as Ben points out, this is a stage musical role that he is actually creating. This is the show’s first run.
“It’s not like doing a character that I have done before where you can just drop into the character that is already there. There is a lot to play around with, a lot to think about. It’s great fun, but there is also a great feeling of responsibility.”
In a way, though, the musical version could actually be seen as an extension of the TV show: “The music was so ingrained in the TV series. It wasn’t a musical, but everything evolved around the music. There was the juke box and the theme tune and the Bill Haley and the Comets song that was used. There was a lot of music in the show.”
For Ben, this is his fourth or fifth musical: “I like doing something that scares me every day! I get scared every night. I would say that I am primarily an actor, rather than a singer, and doing something like this is a challenge. I have to work hard, but I do really enjoy it.
“I love doing plays, and I have done a lot of plays, but with plays the audience is silent. It’s only at the end that you get the feedback. With a musical, the audience really is part of the whole thing.”
Ben’s previous musicals have included Norman in Dreamboats and Petticoats both on tour and in the West End. Ben continued his West End success playing Warner in Legally Blonde and, most recently, Fiyero in the hit musical Wicked.