Happy Days, A New Musical opens in Toronto on Thursday. (Gerry Goodstein/Dancap Productions)

When he created a musical based on his 1970s TV series Happy Days, Garry Marshall looked forward to revisiting the characters he had created for the show.

But the idea he originally had for creating a musical — stringing together episodes of the old show — didn't work on the stage.

Happy Days, a New Musical, which came together over the last five years and opens in Toronto on Tuesday, rests on the bedrock of the characters he created, but with a different kind of storyline.

"It's kind of a dream come true; I get to visit all the characters again," Marshall said in an interview with CBC's Q cultural affairs show.

Returning in living, singing and dancing colour, are Arthur (the Fonz) Fonzerelli, the "hoodlum with a heart of gold," the Cunningham family and Potsie Weber, Richie Cunningham's friend.


Garry Marshall, shown in August 2008, spent five years developing a musical from his TV series Happy Days. ((Carrie Antlfinger/Associated Press))

"Fonzie was always cool, but in the musical, Fonzie is supposed to help the town — save Arnold's [the malt shop] from being taken over. They're going to make it a mall. Nobody knows what a mall means in 1959, and suddenly he disappears. He can't do it," Marshall said.

The storyline was devised after several "misfires" by Marshall, who wrote the script but hired a team of composers to help him with the music.

Among the ideas that didn't fly — a gay Fonzie and Richie Cunningham's younger sister, Joanie, needing an abortion.

"You bring in composers and they have ideas that are modern and hip and 'Let's have Fonzie be gay, he'll come out of the closet under that leather jacket.' They said, 'Let's make him gay, it will be the new thing.' I said, 'I don't think that's the spirit of it,' " Marshall said.

Happy Days is set in the 1950s and the Cunninghams are a 1950s happy family. The show avoided mention of untoward political events outside the small-town setting and even people of different skin tones are in short supply.

That was in part the network's choice, Marshall said. Happy Days was the feel-good family alternative to more provocative series, such as All in the Family.

"Happy Days had a certain feel to it. The characters were very solid," he said.

He believes that will be a tonic for today's tough times.

"It's a happy time and an innocent time and a time when you don’t worry so much."

Marshall said he knew he had to update things for a modern audience, but he couldn't deviate too far from that solid base.

Audiences come with expectations shaped by the TV show, Marshall said.

"The first five minutes of the show there's mumbling — you hear a lot of mumbling," he said. " 'That guy didn't exactly look like Ronnie Howard' [who played the original Richie] … and then it stops because they get involved with the story."

Marshall had several hit shows in the 1970s and 1980s, including Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple TV show and Mork and Mindy.

He's directed films such as Beaches, Pretty Woman, and The Princess Diaries and been a popular character actor in Murphy Brown, Jumpin' Jack Flash, A League of Their Own, and The Sarah Silverman Program.

Happy Days plays at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto until Feb. 15.