Phoenix Ensemble XXV: The Silver Anniversary Spectacular
Directed by Lisa Ng
Musical Director – Nick Ng
Choreographed by Laura Baker
the Tin Shed
Season: July 20-August 11. Bookings: Bookings: phoenixensemble.com.au or phone 07) 3103 1546
The Silver Anniversary Spectacular is a presentation of a collection of songs from 25 years’ worth of performances by the Phoenix Ensemble (also incorporating the juniors)— and they have certainly done a lot of shows in that time and managed to span 51 musicals in total.
A lot of the musical numbers were unknown to me, and this may well have been because for the most part, the most obvious song that a musical was known for was not performed, it was a secondary one instead, such as Pity the Child from Chess, instead of One Night in Bangkok. While saying that though, Adam Bartlett who sang Pity the Child was excellent.
There were a lot of great renditions overall of the songs chosen, whether they were solos, duets or full ensembles.
I particularly liked the juniors’ involvement with their block of Food, Glorious Food (Oliver), Hard Knock Life/Tomorrow (Annie) and Tomorrow (Bugsy Malone). They were also featured in a number of other songs with the full ensemble and it is good to see the next generation coming through.
The first number that really hit home with me was Keep it Gay (The Producers). The group of men performing this were lively, funny and had good harmony. As were the group of women who performed What Was A Woman To Do (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).
I particularly enjoyed the final song in the first half Under the Sea (The Little Mermaid), which incorporated the entire company and some fabulous costumes, from mermaids to a lobster and an assortment of sea life.
The second half had a lot more known songs in it. Sucks to Be Me (AvenueQ) was another particularly funny song, complete with the original cast members. The performance of One (A Chorus Line) was chic and snappy, with the ensemble group dressed in black with gold hats. Stars and the Moon (Songs for a New World) was beautifully performed. As was On My Own (Les Miserables) by Bethany Warnes-Jones, both in French and English. Cell Block Tango (Chicago) was a particular high note to the second half, with songs from Buddy Holly, All Shook Up and Rock of Ages rounding it out. The finale of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (Spamalot) was a great way to finish the evening, with the entire cast.
The stage at Phoenix is relatively small and it never ceases to amaze how many people they manage to fit on it for dance numbers. A raised platform at the centre back of the stage housed the band comprising two keyboards, a guitar and drums. In front of this were two blocks of steps, which were moved around the stage as needed by cast members. Any props were brought on and off by the performer at the time. The flats surrounding the stage had been decorated with memorabilia from past shows — posters, props, and bits of costume.
The choreography by Laura Baker was very good. A couple of the juniors got to show the audience their moves in Greased Lightning (Grease), with the dancing ranging across the genres of rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, and contemporary.
The wardrobe was enormous, each song requiring a different get up. I think that some of the cast members may have had at least up to 30 changes each. Hats off to the costume design team.
As is always the case when using microphones, a couple were not working on the night which meant the performers couldn’t be heard, which was a shame. There was a major faux pas with the spotlight as it moved across the stage, sometimes with the performer, more often than not without, and still moving when the performer had stopped, leaving them in the dark.
The band was good, playing a vast range of music, but at times the accompanying music was too loud, forcing the singers to ramp up their levels even with the microphones, often to not so desired an effect.
While I enjoyed bits of the show, I was not impressed by the whole. This was an enormous task to perform over 50 songs and a difficult feat to accomplish, particularly where songs are being taken out of their original context. Phoenix, have however, put their all into it and there was an appreciative audience of their performance. From my point of view, I would have chosen some more of the known songs to perform. That being said, Phoenix do have some talented people in their ranks who performed admirably on the night.