REVIEW: Australian Premiere of HAPPY PEOPLE IN CONCERT

Marvellous home-grown musical

By Bradley Storer

Australian music theatre composer Matthew Lee Robinson, after the acclaimed concert production of his musical Atlantis earlier this year, returned to Chapel Off Chapel with the presentation of his original work Happy People, a behind-the-scenes examination of the world of children’s entertainment.

Happy People - Photo Credit James Terry Photography

The titular group, ‘Happy People’, are a Hi-5/Wiggles-style collective of children’s entertainers who, after ten years working together, are falling apart. Bobby (Bobby Fox) and Sunny (Sun Park), formerly married and recently divorced, are conflicted over residual bitterness and Bobby’s self destructive tendencies. Flamboyant Jewish boy Benny (Tom Sharah) seeks to re-invent himself as a member of a boy band pop star. Jeff (Bert Labonté), the elephant-suited mascot of the group, wants nothing more than to move to his recently-bought new home and settle down with the fifth member of the group, Sally (Gretel Scarlett) – a bright bouncy blonde with the sugary sweetness and rigidity of a Stepford housewife.

The show as a whole is fantastic – Robinson, doing double duty as composer and librettist, crafts hilarious sendups of songs that seemed almost ripped from a real-life children’s TV show, as well as some emotional ballads and duets that throb with the complexities and heartaches of adulthood, alongside well-crafted scenes that had the audience in tears from laughter.

In the cast, there are no weak points – even from behind music stands and carrying books, they delivered fully committed and individuated performances. Scarlett as the manically cheerful Sally shows off some fantastic comedic chops, as well as her stunning voice of both range and power. Sharah as Benny comes close to stealing the show with every line, and his song ‘Boyband’ is a comedic and physical tour de force of every 90’s boyband stereotype. Robyn Arthur in the small but crucial role of the band’s manager Poppy brought a solid and earthy maturity to the part, as well as a rafter-shaking belt in the touching penultimate song ‘Young’.

Happy People stands as a strong work from an established Australian composer, and is great evidence of the vibrancy and originality of the emerging Australian musical scene.

The premiere of Happy People in Concert took place at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran on the 18 – 19th October, 2014.

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