Since arriving in Perth a fortnight ago, Australian composer and performer Matthew Robinson has been a hard man to catch.
Not only has he been busy workshopping his new musical Atlantis, with first year WAAPA students for up to eighteen hours a day, six days a week, he has been preparing for the Perth season of Opening Doors with long time friend and collaborator Lucy Durack.
Thankfully, Matthew took time out of his busy schedule to sit down and chat with AussieTheatre about his latest adventure…
Welcome back to Perth! When was the last time you performed here?
Back in ‘08. Luce and I performed a special concert version of my first musical Metro Street Downstairs at the Maj. Four months later Metro Street got picked up for its World Premiere season at the State Theatre Company of South Australia, so the Maj must be a lucky charm.
You have just returned from the US where you were mentored by Stephen Schwartz, can you share something of the experience?
Stephen has one of the greatest brains for musical theatre dramaturgy I’ve ever come across. We know he writes a great tune and clever lyric, but his ability to analyse a story is second to none. Sitting in his NYC apartment and nutting out the structural weaknesses in my second musical was an absolute gift.
Opening Doors is the title of this production. Can you tell us a bit about the significance of the title?
Luce and I love Sondheim’s musical Merrily We Roll Along and throughout our early careers we’d often stop and feel like we were living the song ‘Opening Doors’, which is from that show. In the song the lead characters feel like the wheels are really starting to turn in their careers. Luce and I are all about possibility and turning that into the real thing.
In this production you’ll be presenting new material from your songwriting catalogue. Is there a theme running through these new pieces?
I’ve written a special title song for the show, and the other new pieces are from my new musical revue Sing On Through Tomorrow and my new musicals Happy People and Atlantis. We’re really excited to share them with Perth audiences.
How do you decide on the subject matter for your material?
These days I write songs for a particular purpose: a TV show, a corporate event, a musical. So, it’s all about the intent for that moment in the show
In most cases what do you find comes first, the lyrics or the music?
Almost always, it’s music first.
What do you hope Perth audiences take away from your material? And what excites you about presenting Opening Doors to Perth audiences?
The musicals that reach Perth have usually been workshopped overseas for years, had their premieres in NYC or London and then toured here from the east coast of Australia. I want to bring Perth audiences the music they’ll hear in years to come before it’s even been heard overseas.
Can you give us a brief history of the development of the show?
Lucy and I put the show together in March and premiered it in Melbourne in April. We’d been waiting for a break in Luce’s Wicked schedule so we could put a new two-person show together.
You’re working with Lucy again after four years, what is it that she brings to your work?
Early on, people called Lucy my muse. A muse is someone who inspires and she really is that for me. I respect her in every way, her commitment, her talent, her outlook. Both the way we fit together onstage and the way she fits my music is a perfect match.
I’ve read the two of you will be sharing some stories during the performance. Any you can share now?
Luce mentions rhythmic gymnastics, but I think that’s for her to share.
In developing the show what has been the hardest thing?
It’s actually been a pleasure in every way. If anything, we’re based in different cities, so we had to do the initial stages over the phone.
The laughs we have every time we rehearse and perform.
Who/what has been your greatest influence?
My mother. She’s a primary school music specialist who has vocal and handbell choirs. She was my first singing teacher and I first learnt to write on an upright piano she bought instead of taking a trip to Europe in the ‘70s.
What excites you about musical theatre in Australia?
That we’re just beginning.
What is next for you?
A trip to New York City in September to develop my skills by doing readings of my third musical Atlantis, which I just workshopped at WAAPA with the Musical Theatre first years.