Adam Silorey knows he has some big motorcycle boots to fill.
The actor portrays that cool tough guy with a heart of gold, the iconic Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, in the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre’s production of the musical “Happy Days.”
The show is based on the popular TV sitcom, set in the 1950s and early ’60s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which ran on ABC from 1974-84.
Silorey knows it’s a challenge to take on such a beloved character.
“It was intimidating at first, because so many people know The Fonz,” Silorey says in a phone interview from Florida, where he has been performing the role at the Dutch Apple’s sister theater, The Broadway Palm.
“And Henry Winkler is just iconic in that role, and he’s such a comedic genius with the way that he crafted it. … He has so many catch phrases,” Silorey says. “And so, my jumping point was just watching every ‘Happy Days’ episode I could get my hands on.
“I knew people would be disappointed if I didn’t give them the Fonz that people know and love,” he says. “So a lot of my research was just studying Henry Winkler and watching all the YouTube compilations that I could.”
The “Happy Days” musical has been playing in regional theaters and on tour since it premiered in California in 2006. The late writer and director Garry Marshall, creator of the sitcom, penned the book of the show, and Oscar-winning composer Paul Williams wrote the music and lyrics.
“The score is just so much fun. It really has people bopping in their seats from beginning to end. … Audiences aren’t typically familiar with the musical, and so they’re being introduced to 20 new songs that they probably haven’t heard,” he says.
His favorite song to perform is called “Dancing on the Moon.”
“I get to sing it with the actress that plays Pinky Tuscadero, and what’s so fun about the love story between Pinky and Fonz is we really count on the audience to know who these characters are,” Silorey says. “It’s kind of fun to be able to take that relationship that the audience knows and just amplify it — how cool these two people are, and how they find the coolest love ever.”
The musical centers on an effort to save the popular high school hangout, Arnold’s Drive-In.
“Right at the beginning, we find out that Arnold’s is being sold to a construction company, and being turned into a mall,” Silorey says. “And so the gang has to come together — Richie, Chachi, Potsie, Ralph Malph, The Fonz, Pinky — we all come together to save Arnold’s.
“So we put on a dance contest to raise money,” he says. “We put on a community picnic with a wrestling match where The Fonz wrestles the Malachis (a pair of biker brothers who feuded with Fonzie on the sitcom) to try to save their meeting place, that symbol of community within Milwaukee.
“One of the fun parts of the plot is Richie, Potsie, Chachi and Ralph Malph have a singing group called The Dial Tones, and it’s a doo-wop a cappella group,” he says “And so they get to perform, and they back up a lot of the songs with the doo-wop style.”
Acting wasn’t Silorey’s original career plan.
“I started (college) as a pre-med bio student,” he says. “And after my first semester, I knew it wasn’t for me.
“I was always interested in acting,” he recalls. “I was sitting in my dorm, preparing for finals, and an ad popped up for Disney World auditions. So, I flew myself down to Orlando and auditioned for the Walt Disney World company and got hired, and that’s what jump-started my career as an actor.”
After a year of playing characters and being a parade performer for Disney, he went back to school to study acting, earning bachelor’s and master of fine arts degrees.
“I’ve been on the road, acting professionally, ever since,” says the Detroit native, who’s now based in Chicago.
Silorey says one of his favorite jobs was last year, getting to play seven different characters in the one-man show “Buyer & Cellar,” about a struggling actor who takes a job in a mall in Barbra Streisand’s basement.
“It was so much fun. I got to play the actor, I got to play Barbra Streisand, I got to play her housekeeper,” he says, “and it was just a wild blast.”
Silorey calls himself a community-minded person, so he loves performing in shows like “Happy Days” that celebrate that sense of community.
While he hasn’t spent much time in Lancaster, he played the male lead in an annual Indiana regional-theater production of “Plain and Fancy,” the 1955 Broadway musical about New Yorker sophisticates experiencing Amish life in Bird-in-Hand.
“That’s another show similar to ‘Happy Days’ — a show with a ton of heart,” he says.
These days, you’d be “correctamundo” to assume Silorey loves inhabiting The Fonz.
“Happy Days” is a show that resonates with audiences, he says.
“These audiences have just loved the show,” Silorey says. “It’s so nostalgic for them, you know? They are so excited from the moment we start.
“You can see them just come to life, recognizing the dance moves from the period and the sound from the period, and then getting to see these characters that they know and love, and probably haven’t seen for a while, come to life right in front of them.
“It’s in the title — ‘Happy Days.’ It really is such a great way for audiences to forget about their troubles for two hours and enjoy just a story that’s based around community and hope and love,” Silorey says. “There’s no better message I can think of, coming into 2021.”
• What: The musical “Happy Days.”
• Where: Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, 510 Centerville Road.
• When: Now through through April 3. Wednesday through Sunday at various times, evenings and matinees.
• Cost: Dinner and show $60-$69 for adults, $30 ages 13-18, $25 for children 3-12. Show only: $45 adults, $22 for 18 and under.
• Information and tickets: 717-898-1900; dutchapple.com.
• Safety information: Audience members must wear masks in the theater except when dining at their tables; temperatures will be checked before entry. Tables are physically distanced, with reduced seating capacity; buffet is served by staff.
• More info: dutchapple.com/covid-19-safety-measures.
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