Happy days as the Fonz visits Ed’s Easy Diner in Norwich

Actor Ben Freeman, who is appearing as The Fonz at the Theatre Royal's Happy Days, enjoys time at Ed

Actor Ben Freeman, who is appearing as The Fonz at the Theatre Royal's Happy Days, enjoys time at Ed's Easy Diner at Intu Chapelfield. With him are servers, from left, drinks maker Hannah Royal; Jessica Barrett, and Lexi Robertson. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Every day's a happy day this week in Norwich as the musical of the classic all-American show takes to the Theatre Royal stage. Ben Freeman stars as the Fonz, and he took some time out to tuck into a burger at Ed's Easy Diner and chat to arts correspondent Emma Knights.

Actor Ben Freeman, who is appearing as The Fonz at the Theatre Royal's Happy Days, enjoys time at Ed

Actor Ben Freeman, who is appearing as The Fonz at the Theatre Royal's Happy Days, enjoys time at Ed's Easy Diner at Intu Chapelfield. With him are servers, from left, deputy manager Jasper Taylor; Lexi Robertson; Kerry Loades; drinks maker Hannah Royal; and Jessica Barrett. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

With his slicked back hair and trademark leather jacket, Arthur Fonzarelli, the king of cool, was made famous by actor Henry Winkler in the classic show Happy Days.

Henry Winkler as The Fonz.

Henry Winkler as The Fonz.

It must be a daunting task taking on the role of such an iconic character, but actor Ben Freeman is taking it all in his stride and having a great time starring in the new musical about the hit TV series set in 1950s Milwaukee.

Actor Ben Freeman, who is appearing as The Fonz at the Theatre Royal's Happy Days, enjoys time at Ed

Actor Ben Freeman, who is appearing as The Fonz at the Theatre Royal's Happy Days, enjoys time at Ed's Easy Diner at Intu Chapelfield. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

'It's a very difficult role to try and emulate because people have such high expectations of what the Fonz should be,' said Ben, who previously played Chris Longworth in Grange Hill and Scott Windsor in Emmerdale.

'I'm my own version of the Fonz, that's the only way I can do it because I don't look loads like him, even though I am dressed up as him.


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'I don't particularly sound that much like him and also I sing. I have to sing in the show, and he never had to sing.

'The genre has totally changed and so you do get a little bit of licence to make it your own slightly.'

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To prepare for his part Ben spent some time with Henry Winkler, who as well as playing Fonzie in the original show is the creative consultant for the new musical.

'I spent a couple of days with him. He's great...He's just so cool, whatever he does,' said Ben.

'He tries to not be the Fonz but it is just in him, you know, everything that he says is just very funny. I would have liked to have spent more time with him. He's quite a cool guy.'

When asked what words of wisdom he was given by Henry Winkler, Ben said: 'Play the drama and play the truth of it. Don't try to be funny and basically don't try to be him being the Fonz, just be me being the Fonz. The stuff that he did to play the Fonz wasn't forced, that was him naturally, and I think if you're not inclined to do that naturally then do it your own way, otherwise it's just an impersonation and I don't think that he wanted me to be an impersonation of him.'

Ben said one of his favourite things about playing the Fonz was the great reaction from the audiences.

'It's funny, sometimes you get an applause just for walking on stage, and that's nothing to do with me, it's because of what an impact that character had in the series,' he said.

'He doesn't appear for the first little while [in the show] and so you can tell there's a bit of anticipation, 'where is the Fonz?' I enjoy my first entrance. I think that's the best bit.'

The show is all about the Fonz, the Cunninghams and the rest of the Happy Days gang trying to save Arnold's Diner from destruction, and weaved in with all the drama is an array of songs including the trademark Happy Days tune.

'It's Happy Days with songs, but songs that are specifically written for the show, so they're not shoehorned in because they happened to be popular songs that people liked. These are songs that were written specifically with the musical in mind,' said Ben, who has also played Warner in the Legally Blonde musical and Fiyero in the West End show Wicked.

'Music was always a big part of Happy Days anyway with the opening credits - it used to be Bill Hayley and his Comets doing the opening music and then they wrote the song Happy Days for it - so it always was linked with rock and roll and music, so it kind of makes sense to have more music in it.'

The Happy Days tour is Ben's first trip to Norfolk and he said he was enjoying his visit.

'The weather is wonderful and the people are nice. We had a great audience last night,' he said, urging more people to come see the show which is at the Theatre Royal until Saturday.

'Come and watch it. It's a really good show and we all enjoy doing it. All the audience love watching it - no-one leaves without a smile on their face!'

• Happy Days runs until Saturday at Norwich Theatre Royal and also stars Heidi Range from The Sugababes, and Cheryl Baker, part of the Eurovision Song Contest winning band Bucks Fizz.

For more information or to book tickets call 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

• Ed's Easy Diner in intu Chapelfield is running a special Happy Days-themed menu featuring everything from the Fonzie Burger to the Ralph Malph Hot Dog to the Joanie Special Shake. Staff are also getting into the Happy Days spirit and donning 1950s outfits all week.

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