It has been quite a busy year for Matthew Lee Robinson. The Churchill and Australia Council Fellow, earlier this year he premiered his new musical Atlantis. His latest offering Happy People, premiered in concert-form at Chapel Off Chapel, to a very enthusiastic response.
Happy People centres around the private lives of a top-rating children’s television performing group which descends into chaos, both on and off stage, as they launch into their 10th and potentially final live national tour.
It has been a number of years since I’ve seen Robinson’s work, having seen Metro Street during its premiere season in Adelaide in 2009. Once again, his writing of the book, music and lyrics shines, demonstrating a musical maturity beyond his years, that has significant benefit of being developed over a number of years, with workshops here and in America, including a mentorship under Stephen Schwartz.
Robinson has taken everything we have come to love (and dislike) of the children’s television phenomenon to present a highly entertaining and at times heart-felt production. Having the potential to become a clichéd product of itself, Happy People is underscored with the machinations of ambition and ego, and underpinned by the highs and lows of relationships.
In a semi-staged concert presentation, one could easily be forgiven that we had accidently wandered onto the set of Playschool or Hi-5, faux grass, white picket fence and cardboard cut-out house. Chris Parker’s direction was thoughtfully simple, allowing his all-star cast (Bert LaBonte, Sun Park, Bobby Fox, Gretel Scarlett, Tom Sharah, and Robyn Arthur), with musical direction by Robinson, to fully explore the repertoire of 16 songs that pays homage, with a passing nod to its source material.
All vocally strong, each were given their moment to shine. None more so than Robyn Arthur’s reflective Young, and Tom Sharah’s Boyband. One can only hope we will see a cast recording of this material in the not-so-distant future.
Every now and then a performance comes along that excels on many levels. Happy People is one such performance!
Happy People in concert
The Loft – Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Performance: Saturday 18 October 2014 – 8.00pm
Season: 18 & 19 October 2014
Image: Edison The Elephant (Bert LaBonte), Matthew Lee Robinson (rear), Sun Park, Bobby Fox, Gretel Scarlett and Tom Sharah – photo by James Terry Photography
Review: Rohan Shearn