Donny Most is best known for his role as Ralph Malph on Happy Days. But on May 7, the prolific actor will show off another side of his artistic chops, when he comes to the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts to sing with his Blazing Big Band.
“Before I was acting, I was singing,” says Most. “It was my first love.” Growing up in Brooklyn, Most spent summers in the Catskills, where he sang in nightclubs as a teenager. “I loved the songs of the Great American Songbook—jazz, swing, big band.”
The Patchogue show will emphasize swing, with intimate jazz combos and ballads, celebrating the music of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dino Esposito and Bobby Darin. “Even when I wasn’t singing professionally, I always did it on my own,” says Most of his foray into performing. He started seriously pursuing singing about four years ago, releasing his first album, D Most: Mostly Swinging, this past February. “I got sidetracked, if you will, by acting,” says Most of his singing resurgence.
After the summers in the Catskills, Most started acting classes in the city. He went on to attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, commuting into Manhattan for auditions. He landed a few commercials, and decided to head to California after his junior year, intending to stay just for the summer. “I got an agent based on the work I did in New York,” Most recalls. That led to a few guest-starring roles on television shows produced in L.A.
Though Most planned to go back to Lehigh to finish his senior year, his agent suggested he stay in California for another six months, since he had so much momentum. After making that decision “I got a part pretty quickly, and then nothing,” says Most. Discouraged and questioning his move, Most found out about the Happy Days pilot a few months later. He auditioned, and they asked him to come back for a screen test. Though he originally tried out for the role of Warren “Potsie” Weber, a part later given to Anson Williams, the producers created Ralph Malph for him.
“I had a small role in the pilot,” says Most. “But they guaranteed I would be in 10 of the 13 episodes [that season].” Ralph Malph was a girl-chasing, joke-filled regular on the series, best known for his catchphrase, “I still got it!”
The show was a runaway success, airing for 11 seasons and 255 episodes. “It was hard to grasp how popular we were,” says Most. “You’re just sitting in a sound stage, and you don’t realize that 40 million people are tuning in.” Highlights from his time on the show include when the cast attended public events—“When we were put in situations where we encountered our fans, we could see the impact the show had,” he says. “Moments like that stand out to me.”
Since Happy Days, Most has continued to pursue television and film, making his directorial debut with The Last Best Sunday in 1999. The film won Best Feature at the Telluride Indie Fest. He also has a recurring role on Glee; and he was cast in Ed TV, a movie directed by fellow Happy Days cast member Ron Howard. “That was a big thrill,” recalls Most.
Yet Most’s heart has always been with singing. “The timing for my kind of sound is good. There’s been a resurgence of the Great American Songbook,” he says of the recent move to more seriously pursue singing and performing.
“I’m passionate about music. I love being on stage. It’s an incredible high, and people seem to get caught up in that same high.”
A Night at the Copa Starring Donny Most will be held on May 7 at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 East Main Street, Patchogue, at 7 p.m. For tickets and additional info, visit patchoguetheatre.org or call 631-207-1313.