I’m not here, but my Friday Wall Street Journal drama column is. This week I review the Broadway revival of Terrence McNally’s The Ritz and Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of Garry Marshall’s Happy Days: A New Musical:
I love farce, but “The Ritz” is a big, sloppy mess, a series of inconsistently amusing sketches loosely strung on a paper-thin pretext: Gaetano (Kevin Chamberlin) marries into a family of Brooklyn thugs. His brother-in-law Carmine (Lenny Venito) decides to whack him on general principles. In order to avoid becoming a whackee, he jumps in a cab and asks the driver to take him to a place where nobody would dream of looking for him. The driver drops him at the front door of a gay steambath, which Gaetano innocently assumes is an ordinary Turkish bath…and we’re off to the races.
Needless to say, all this is the stuff of a high-speed mistaken-identity farce, and in the hands of a more disciplined farceur it might well have yielded up loads of laughs. The trouble is that Mr. McNally has failed to nail the pieces together with the scrupulous precision that farce demands, meaning that the second act of “The Ritz” fails to build up or pay off with the explosive comic force of such great modern farces as Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw” or Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off.” Yes, it’s funny–but not funny enough….
Garry Marshall and Paul Williams have come up with a musical version of “Happy Days,” one of the most successful sitcoms of the ’70s. Perhaps the proper word for this wan production, however, is meta-nostalgic, since it’s a show about a show, a sentimental look back at a sentimental look back at America in the ’50s. That’s an awful lot of sentiment for one musical, especially one that doesn’t contain a single memorable song. All Mr. Williams has to offer is carbon-paper pastiche, just as all Mr. Marshall has to offer is a plot bland enough to have been pinched from an episode of the sitcom he created in 1974, back in the days when most network TV series were as controversial as turkey on white with mayo.