Happy People in Concert (2014)
HI-5: THE DARK SIDE. Whenever I think of children’s television/music shows I think of the sketch from Comedy Inc where a faux Hi-5 member sings “Repetition, repetition, let’s sing it again”. The world of children’s entertainment is ripe for comedy gold, and Matthew Lee Robinson has found that gold, and polished it to the nth degree.Robinson’s musical Happy People takes a look behind the scenes of a Hi-5/Wiggles-type group (and television show) named ‘Happy People’, which for the most part is an inaccurate representation of their emotions. There’s divorced and feuding couple Bobby (Bobby Fox) and Sunny (Sun Park), boyband wannabe Benny (Tom Sharah), the ever-perky Sally (Gretel Scarlett) who likes cupcakes and dislikes change, and Jeff (Bert LaBonté) a.k.a. ‘Edison the Elephant’. Robyn Arthur also stars as Happy People’s producer, Poppy. Embarking on their tenth anniversary tour, they’re all a bit over it, but it’s a job.
The overly corny dialogue as part of the show within the show was hilarious, and actually not far off the dialogue used in real children’s shows. I really do wonder about the stars of Hi-5 and such groups, and how they can put on such an exaggerated display of enthusiasm without wanting to bang their heads against a wall. Indeed, Happy People demonstrates that sometimes keeping a happy face is the hardest thing of all. The show involves plenty of light and dark – I expected constant laughs but it became quite sad in parts. It’s a difficult balance to strike but that crazy cat Matthew Robinson has pulled it off. THIS GUY. IS AMAZING.
Happy People was developed and workshopped in New York, under the mentorship of THE GREAT Stephen Schwartz (composer of Wicked, Godspell, Pippin, and more). This explains the American slant, which felt a little odd when seeing an Aussie creator’s show in Australia, with an all-Australian cast. The American accents and New York setting felt unnecessary for this reason, but when you look at the big picture – that it was developed for a broader audience than just Australia – it makes sense. Looking past the accents, Happy People can easily be directly compared with Australian entertainers such as Hi-5 and The Wiggles, and so it certainly doesn’t isolate its audience.
One thing is for sure: our Aussie cast is THE SHIT. I was interested in seeing Happy People after hearing Robinson sing its best song ‘Boyband’ at a fundraiser a few years ago, but when I saw the cast list I was all over that ticketing website like a rash. This is the Who’s Who of Australian musical theatre.
You may remember Bobby Fox as THE STAR of Jersey Boys, who my boyfriend reckons is even better than John Lloyd Young (the ORIGINAL Broadway Frankie Valli) so, well. My boyfriend doesn’t even like musicals that much so need I say more? He is the shiz. AND HE’S IRISH!
Then there is the absolutely divine Gretel Scarlett currently on a break from Grease where she stars as oh Sandy baby. She really could be a children’s entertainer because her perk is infectious and so genuine. If the rumours about John Frost bringing Cinderella to Australia are true, then she should definitely be in the running for Cinders. Ain’t nobody else gonna fit that shoe like she will.
I can’t get enough of Tom Sharah (seriously – I’ve barely seen him in anything, and I’m so bummed I missed his 90s cabaret show!) – he is just perfection – comically, dramatically, and vocally. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GIVE HIM A MAJOR ROLE IN A MAJOR SHOW, THANKYOU. I don’t even know how he manages to keep a straight face while he has the audience in fits of laughter – if I were him I would be constantly cracking myself up at my own hilarity.
I wasn’t so familiar with Sun Park but I discovered later that SHE WAS ACTUALLY IN HI-5! That is just brilliant. She has a killer voice – way too good for Hi-5 though I can see she would have been perfect as a member.
Bert LaBonte is just SO. GOOD. When he’s involved, you know it’s going to be a great show. He has such a commanding presence – there’s no way he’d grace the stage of anything less than glorious.
Robyn Arthur is the requisite oldie and I usually get bored by the old lady numbers in musicals (I’m not that good at relating to their lyrics). But I was pretty damn impressed with her 11 o’clock number ‘Young’. MAYBE THIS MEANS I’M MATURING! Or that she’s awesome and Robinson is a God. That’s probably more likely.
Happy People was hella impressive for a one-weekend-only concert version of a musical that involved the cast reading from their scripts. I anticipate it will only get bigger and better once it is developed into a fully realised musical. This is a show everyone can get – from the parents almost ready to stab their eyes out because they’ve watched the same Hi-5 DVD fifty million times, to the usual musical theatre crowd who appreciates shows of this high calibre. Better watch out world, Matthew Lee Robinson is coming.
Watch Matthew Lee Robinson sing his brilliant number ‘Boyband’ below (video from 2009):