Melbourne had the first look at Matthew Lee Robinson’s musical Happy People on the weekend.
Its first workshop performance was in Melbourne in 2010 and since then Robinson, a WAPPA graduate, received a Churchill Fellowship to go to the USA to study composition, lyric and book writing under the mentorship of Stephen Schwartz – who wrote Wicked. With more development in the US and dramaturgical input by Schwartz, Happy People is ready to come home.
Inspired by the Australian children’s tv program Hi-5, it’s about an American kids-tv foursome, the man inside their elephant friend, and their manager. They’ve been smiling and wearing bright colours for ten years and the cracks are beginning to show. Sunny (Sun Park, who was in Hi-5) and Bobby (Bobby Fox) were married but can barely be in the same room as each other; Benny (Tom Sharah) is auditioning for a boy band; Sally (Gretel Scarlett) stuck at 25 and isn’t keep to turn 30; while Jeff (Bert LaBonté) has had enough of being an elephant, is in love with Sally and is secretly developing his own show with Sunny and hoping for manager (Robyn Arthur) to support them. Everyone’s had enough of being happy, until their final tour is announced.
Directed by Chris Parker, the concert version shows that Happy People needs to get onto a stage (with this cast, please) to work out the final kinks. The book feels like it needs some Act 2 complications to raise the stakes and really threaten the relationships, but it’s hard to tell when the action’s so condensed.
Otherwise, it’s ready to go with music that’s asking to be sung along to, witty lyrics and a story’s that gets behind the endless smiles of kids tv. Let’s just hope that we get to see it in Australia (maybe with some Australian content) before the US grabs it and makes us wait.