Happy: A Very Gay Little Musical is the latest show to open at Buddies and also the first musical by Sky Gilbert the theatre has produced in 17 years. And what a tricky little number it is. Essentially a musical about people writing a musical about people writing a musical, Happy tells the story of Bob and Dave, a married gay couple writing a musical about themselves, and Sue, Bob’s dramaturg/faghag extraordinaire. Some scenes in the play are set within the heightened reality of the musical they are working on, and some in rather less glamorous reality. In both scenarios, things take a twist when an unexpected knock at the door reveals a young man who may be an actor, or a symbol for HIV, or just some guy Bob has been fucking.
The cast is quite solid, particularly Sharron Matthews’ very believable faghag Sue and the always charming Jason Cadieux’s beleagured songwriter Dave. And the songs Gilbert has written along with composer Micah Barnes are cute and entertaining. But this show is definitely not for everyone. You won’t get all the jokes if you don’t know who people like Brad Fraser and John Greyson are. But if you didn’t see Neil Bartram’s terrible The Story of My Life at CanStage in fall of 2006, you won’t understand the impetus for Happy. While the piece is never mentioned by name, it becomes clear that Gilbert’s musical is a direct response to Bartram’s, a closety bit of nonsense about two men in love to whom the idea of homosexuality apparently never occurred.
There is definitely some good work here, but Happy doesn’t quite hold together as a piece on its own. For one thing, there is not a sharp enough contrast between the world of the musical and reality. But the whole idea of creating a musical to shit all over another one, much as it might have deserved it, is kind of mean-spirited. It would be much more interesting to see a new Gilbert piece that functions on its own and speaks for itself.
Happy: A Very Gay Little Musical plays at Buddies in Bad Times until April 27.