When Human Nature Went Happy Days
Posted by Andrew C on Friday, August 22nd, 2014
It was 1999, the height of boy band hysteria—and Y2K paranoia. Seemingly the last thing that would be on anyone’s mind was a TV sitcom from more than two decades in the past. But as the fates would have it, the 25th anniversary celebration of the classic American show Happy Days had found its way to the shores of Australia, and our friends in Human Nature were about to get wrapped up in one of the more unique and memorable projects of their career.
“Yes, we once performed in an arena musical version of Happy Days,” Phil Burton concedes. “That was probably funny enough in itself. But what was even funnier was what happened at the end-of-tour party.”
Before we get to that classic moment in Human Nature history, though, let’s first revisit how they got there.
Back in the summer of ’99– after a London theater workshop adaptation of Happy Days caught the attention of the great Australian promoter Paul Dainty—it was announced that Dainty and collaborator David Ian would be bringing Happy Days: The Arena Mega Musical to a handful of Australian cities. And in stark contrast to the “Dainty” name, it would prove to be a massive, elaborate production, with more than 70 performers taking the stage.
The big Happy Days touring show wasn’t short on star power, either. Along with a cast of rising musical theater standouts (Jon Stevens, Jo Beth Taylor, Doug Parkinson, and Craig McLachlan as The Fonz), a noted UK director (David Gilmore), and renowned choreographer (Anthony Van Laast), Happy Days also roped in two of the TV show’s original cast members—with Henry Winkler serving as a creative consultant and Tom Bosley reprising his classic role of Mr. Cunningham.
Maybe the biggest fish Dainty managed to pull for the tour, however, was one of Australia’s most popular young boy bands of the day. That’s right, Human Nature played a fictional Doo Wop group called “The Naturals,” adding their talents to the show’s compilation of classic rock n’ roll oldies like “Great Balls of Fire,” “Shake Rattle and Roll,” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”
At this point in their career, Human Nature were fresh off the release of their sophomore album Counting Down, which had raced to number one on the Australian pop charts, knocking Ricky Martin out of the top spot (for more fun historical context, Human Nature would eventually lose that number one position to the soundtrack from another American television show, Dawson’s Creek). The style of music on Counting Down, however, was very contemporary– only hinting at the group’s lifelong passion for ‘50s and ‘60s rock and R&B. With the Happy Days tour, they’d get to share a new side of themselves.
It would still be another six years before the boys fully embraced their admiration for the oldies by releasing their first collection of Motown covers on Reach Out: The Motown Record. So in some ways, this seemingly silly show was the first introduction of Human Nature’s true musical roots to a growing fan base, young and old.
By no coincidence, Happy Days: The Arena Mega Musical proved to be a hit with Australian audiences, capturing the same retro-American mystique as the TV show itself– although if you start to consider that it was a ‘90s musical based on a ‘70s sitcom about ‘50s characters, you’ll get a headache. In any case, a CD version of the production was eventually released. And while the stage show never traveled much beyond Dainty’s Australian empire, it did give Human Nature some great memories… and an amusing, mildly embarrassing anecdote to share.
“So, we were at the end-of-tour party for the Happy Days show,” Phil Burton continues, “and we decided it would be a great idea to change the lyrics of one of the songs, then get up and perform it. The new words, mind you, may have been a little rude– I can’t recall, exactly. But the bigger point is probably that we decided to do this while dressed in the cowgirl outfits that the female dancers wore at one point in the show. From there, our memories of that night are fairly hazy– a combination of years and alcohol– and thankfully there is no visual evidence that it ever happened. But it’s always funny to try and remember all the details. Quite an evening’s entertainment to be sure.”
For lack of a better phrase, you might say those happy days were yours and mine.