Anything Goes // Phoenix Ensemble

Review by Lucy Martin

Ahoy! ALL ABOARD the tin shed!

Out for the night to witness Phoenix Ensemble’s rendition of ‘Anything Goes’, in their punchy little tin shed theatre, the anticipation and excitement was certainly palpable.

Being my first experience at Phoenix, and the first time I was seeing this beautiful show live on stage, I was eager to see what the creative team and cast had done with such a layered story of love, comedy and a life at sea!

Anything Goes, which was originally performed back in 1934, is set on board an ocean liner traveling from New York to England. It follows the story of Reno Sweeney, a night club singer aboard the ship. Her heart is set on Billy Crocker, who is only on board to draw near to his own found love, Hope. But to his dismay, is actually onboard with her fiance, Evelyn Oakleigh.

The show is a tale about a misfit bunch of characters in their search for love and for some, a finding of that love in places they least expected it to be. With some cheeky criminals on board and sailors set for romance – it’s the perfect mix of real life drama and belly laughing comedy.

Charming, entertaining and down right hilarious! Phoenix Ensemble certainly came to the party with this one. Who would’ve thought in such a small area, they could do so much?!

With a 1930’s styled bar set piece offering cocktails on arrival, I was beginning to feel the attention to detail and holistic experience they had carefully considered as an offering to audience members. With the live band neatly snug in view beside the stage and pre-show entertainment conducted by the band and cast members in song, it really was a delightful way to ease us into the show’s commencement.

We were even spoiled with a rendition from the wonderful Director herself, Miranda Selwood, as the pre-show entertainment moved into ‘curtains up!’ Although the transition from this entertainment into the beginning of the show felt a little empty, it was certainly a big kudos to whoever came up with the idea for leading the audience into the 30’s vibe before the show had even started. Brilliant!

One of the most impressive and impacting components to the show was the incredible set design by Andy Kennedy. To see what you and your team created, so effectively, in such a small space was truely top tier. The side walls opening to create the forward and the deck of the ship and then closing to reveal the other rooms within the story was genius. The execution of each cabin’s details was intricate and thoughtful, even down to built in bunk beds! Alongside this, the props by Breanna Gear really fringed the set perfectly, adding a layer of depth to the storyline as each scene went on.

The costume team did beautifully at painting a very timely and cohesive picture of the era and environment each character was in. Special mention to the beautiful gowns set for Reno, they really elevated her as a character. And a special and comedic mention to the bedroom attire of sir Evelyn Oakleigh which really gave the audience a giggle on lights up. Who knew you could look that dashing in boxers, a robe and a sword holstered into a hip belt!

A stellar performance in directing from the lovely Miranda Selwood. Each scene was well thought out, comedic moments were cleverly set up and landed with the audience each time, transition blocking was seamless and kept an impressive pace to the show.

A job well done to choreographer Bec Swan, whose movement and dance choices were timely and well suited to the level of each individual performer. A huge congratulations on the group tap number ‘Anything Goes’ which was an impressive feat to have all cast members tap dancing on a stage of that size! Well done to all involved here, what a fantastic way to round out Act One and leave the audience ready to climb aboard for Act Two!

Now, let’s talk about the cast because BUOY do they deserve some praise.

The minute Jaime O’Donoghue stepped out onto the stage as Reno, in the most fabulous gown with such class and beauty, we knew we were in for a treat. From her exquisite vocals, flawless and effortless – to her gorgeous ‘old school glamour’ styled accent, Miss O’Donoghue truly showed up at a level of true professionalism.

She told Reno’s story with commitment, passion, class and confidence. And really commanded the stage whenever she stepped onto it. Her standout performances were her number that opened the show ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’, showing off her beautiful vocal range. Followed by the number ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ which not only showed incredible vocal control but also her exquisite talent as a dancer and all round performer. We won’t be surprised to see this lovely performers’ name in lights someday.

Zach Price plays the confident and energetic Billy Crocker. His performance was genuine with beautiful vocal control. Impressively keeping this control throughout numbers that required a lot from him physically. His comedic use of facial expression and body language and of course, that dashing smile lighting up the stage upon his every arrival.

The gentle and beautiful Hope Harcourt is played by Kristen Barros, who was wonderfully consistent in her authenticity to the character, chemistry with her co-stars and ability to portray the character’s true emotion. A special mention to her ‘Goodbye Little Dream’ which had us tearing up. A beautiful performance from start to finish.

A standout performer was certainly the dashing and oh so loveable Jordan Ross as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh, whose every movement and line was delivered with perfect comedic timing, depth of character and crystal clear accent. The narrative around this character was such a beautiful story to watch unfold and Ross did a brilliant job at bringing us along. One to watch for sure.

Speaking of having a laugh, Rod Jones as Eli Whitney and Tristan Vanyai as Moonface both delivered belly laughs in spades. Each time these characters graced the stage, their commitment to character was unshakeable and they truly added a level of consistency in story throughout the show. The scene in which these two characters act together in Eli’s cabin room, as Moonface steals his glasses, will leave you in stitches. So well directed and hilariously executed.

Vivien Wood played the vivacious, cheeky, yet loveable criminal Erma. Her accent was committed and clear and her sass a punch of energy in every scene. Vivien’s song ‘Buddie, Beware’ was delivered with such a strong sense of confidence, power and grace. A job well done to this talented performer.

All the characters in this rendition of ‘Anything Goes’ were oozing with stage presence and talent. The ensemble were very strong which meant the group numbers were bright and impactful.

A special mention to the dancers who delivered all the dance feature moments, always giving their full energy and commitment to us. You’ve worked hard and it really showed!

When it came to the atmosphere and the ‘mood setting’ of this show, there were two elements that really set this sail. Firstly the band. Each instrument played with beautiful precision and clarity, a very well rehearsed orchestra who should be very proud of their performance. And hats off to the ever so talented musical director, Jacob Cavanough, for your well planned arrangements and leading of the orchestra on the night.

A special mention to Maddy Bosanko, the lighting for this show was exquisite. The use of follow spots operated by Bell Dagg, were smooth and consistent that really elevated each performer’s moments, and lighting transitions were barely noticed, which is when you know it’s a job well done!

Even down to the temperature of the lighting chosen, being so precise really led us into the time of day when it came to scene moments spanning over a day to night period. I especially loved the design contrast between the ‘day on the ship’ tap number ‘Anything Goes’ to the ‘night on the ship’ number ‘Gabriel’. Well done team.

Also loved the well executed timing of sound effects throughout the show, led by Jacob Cash. With a special mention to the ‘cheeky’ dog barking. When it comes to live theatre, these moments can be hard to land, but they certainly anchored well here.

The cohesion between all departments was remarkable to witness. A very well oiled machine and experienced creative team was at work here! We got to follow along the journey of multi-faceted, multilayered characters and their search for love. For what is your life lived if not lived being true to yourself? I can safely say, this trip aboard was truly magical.

Anything Goes is playing at the Pavilion Theatre at Beenleigh Showgrounds until March 25. Get your tickets now!

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