It is no small feat for a community based company to last for a quarter of a century. More than last, Phoenix Ensemble have thrived in their little tin shed, transforming it into the home of some of the most edgy, and exciting musical theatre being done around town. It is thoroughly fitting then, that their most recent outing, XXV: The Silver Anniversary Spectacular, takes the audience for a jaunt through their impressive history.
Direction by Lisa Ng is solid and largely keeps things moving, making good use of the space, and cleverly dividing up the cast. Clearly working tightly with both her Choreographer and Musical Director, Laura Baker and Nick Ng respectively, the show had a nice shape and flow to it, although some of the musical interludes could have been tightened a little for time.
The first half suffered a little when the band, a solid four piece led by Mr Ng, got a little too loud, and some of the soloists had to really struggle to get over the top of them even with the microphones. Tech was overall used well, the lighting elements mostly added wonderfully (although there was a spotlight that seemed to have a mind of its own and wandered all over the stage) and once the band had settled in the second act things progressed smoothly.
The use of light boxes to show the Phoenix logo and was wonderful, and I wanted to see them used more. At one point they showed images of the shows being included in a mashup, and I would have loved to see this continue throughout. One of the most effective uses of this, was after the rendition of ‘No One Is Alone’ from Into The Woods, when a message appeared on the boxes calling for a moment of silence for those who are no longer with us, who had given their time to become a part of the Phoenix family. The use of a single empty spotlight on stage was a gorgeous addition to this, and is one of the most touching moments of the show.
Full credit to the creatives has to be given for thee inventiveness of their medleys which featured throughout and gave us some refreshing and vibrant takes on old favourites. Particular favourites were the Wedding Medley (‘Not Getting Married Today’- Company, and ‘Linda’s Song’ – The Wedding Singer) and the ‘Pirate King’ and ‘Modern Major General’ mashup.
With the dizzying array of songs and productions through the years and the ensemble working like Trojans spinning through costume changes and dance numbers, it is a little difficult to identify who deserves special mention, because this is such a full ensemble effort. However, a handful of the standout performances are Adam Bartlett for his rendition of ‘Pity the Child’ from Chess, Michael Baillie for his work ‘Under the Sea’, and Morgan Orth who delivered one of the best versions of ‘Stars and the Moon’ from Songs for a New World that I have ever heard.
Additionally, incredible performances were given throughout by; Bethany Warnes-Jones, who proved to be incredibly versatile throughout and is definitely one to watch; Beau Wharton, absolutely fantastic every time he is onstage; Ann McMahon who gave us some amazing solo work; and Heather Scott, whose ‘Steam Heat’ who as luminescent every time she was onstage.
XXV is in every way a celebration of the past 25 years of Phoenix. It was a wonderful walk down memory lane, and in so many ways married the old and the new. For those who have seen a production in the Tin Shed before, it will be like returning to an old friend, and for those who haven’t, it is a glimpse into the direction the company is heading in, for the next 25 years. Tickets available at www.phoenixensemble.com.au. XXV: The Silver Anniversary Spectacular runs for a strictly limited season.