By Jim Stewart
WHO CAN forget that magical split second that lifted an already outstanding performance into a Eurovision winning classic back in 1981.
Since then, Bucks Fizz racked up 20 hits over a seven-year period, and Cheryl Baker became a familiar face on our televisions. Always looking for new horizons, she has diversified into TV presenting, reality contestant, while appearing in comedy and drama theatrical productions.
She is about to undertake the role of Mrs. Cunningham in ‘Happy Days – The Musical’ which makes its UK debut at The Churchill theatre, Bromley on January 11-18, next year, ahead of a seven-month nationwide tour.
Based on the hit TV series from the 1970s, the show’s creator Gary Marshall has written the musical including all of the main characters and many of their favourite storylines, the original theme song plus 21 new songs written by Grammy/oscar/Golden Globe winner Paul Williams. It promises to deliver a fun-filled, colourful show bursting with authentic 1959 humour – guaranteed to have you rollicking’n’-rolling in the aisles.
In addition to Cheryl the cast also features Ben Freeman as ‘The Fonz’ and Heidi Range as Pinky Tuscadero, with Henry Winkler, the original ‘Fonz’ as the artistic director ensuring that everything is recreated true to the original format.
I spoke to Cheryl as she was preparing to start rehearsals, and the TV series was our first subject. ‘I loved it, it was part of my youth, I always tried to watch it, the characters were all colourful and larger than life but they were believable, and that’s how the show will be. I’ve got to have orange hair for seven months. Everybody watched the show. I suppose it was the same with ‘Friends’ in the ‘90s; you didn’t want to miss it as everybody would be talking about it afterwards.’
I spoke to Paul Williams last week and he’s excited about the show’s UK tour.
‘It is THE Paul Williams? (Yes), I really love his music, he’s brilliant.’
Have you heard the songs yet?
‘I’ve heard some, not all, and they’re really good: looking forward to hearing the rest.’
Henry (The Fonz) Winkler is Artistic Director, when does he come over?
‘He’s already here in panto at Richmond. He gets Wednesdays off, so he’ll be coming over every week to check how we’re doing, I think Ben who plays the Fonz will be very nervous portraying him in front of Henry as he’s such an iconic character’
When do the rehearsals begin?
‘The start of December, Monday to Friday; we get a week off for Christmas and we open at The Churchill on January 11.’
So you’re not doing panto this year?
‘I don’t do panto: I stopped nine years ago. It’s so demanding, it takes away the best and most important time of the year with my family, so I decided not to do any more.’
Have you appeared at The Churchill before?
‘I don’t think so. I’ve been there many times to see productions – it’s a fantastic theatre, and I’m really looking forward to actually appearing there, now.’
You’re also keeping busy gigging with Bucks Fizz.
‘Yes, we just did the ‘Here And Now’ 80s Weekender at Bognor which was great. We get to meet up with lots of old friends like Kim Wilde. We have a 35-minute slot which means we are only able to do our biggest hits, and we don’t have to worry about trying something new on the fans. We start with ‘New Beginning’ our last big hit, include ‘My Camera Never Lies’ closing with ‘Land Of Make Believe’ and ‘Making Your Mind Up’.
Do you still do the ‘skirt-rip’?
‘We stopped doing that in the mid-eighties as it was becoming a bit cheesy, but when we got together again in 2003, I said we have got to do the skirt-rip again, our audiences will expect it, and it always gets a huge cheer. There may be a bit more of me now, but it’s all about the show and we give the fans exactly what they want.’
In addition to seeing other acts from ‘back in the day’, I assume you see lots of old fans.
‘We do, and what’s really great is that they bring their families with them. on our merchandising stand we decided not to do small T-shirts, thinking everyone’s put on a bit over the years, but they keep asking for small as they want them for their children.’
You also carved out a good career as a TV presenter.
‘Between 1993 and 2003, I always considered myself to be a TV presenter. I was lucky enough to work on the major channels, plus I had a spell on the Travel Channel and other Sky channels.’
You’ve also done some celebrity TV shows.
‘I did ‘Celebrity Mastermind’ and I came second in ‘Popstar To Operastar’.
Topical question: would you consider doing the ‘jungle?’
‘I was asked, and I auditioned for this year’s show, but I didn’t make the final list. They need to get the right balance of contestants hopefully they will ask me again.’
With a seven-month tour of ‘Happy Days’, the possibility of a West End transfer and more ‘80s festivals Cheryl is looking at another busy year ahead.