If you haven’t had a chance to check out what’s happening at Phoenix Theatre Ensemble in Beenleigh than get along to see Jason Robert Brown’s pop-rock song cycle musical Songs For a New World.
More of a thematic piece than a musical with a plot, Director Zane C Weber cleverly set the stage as four siblings (we assume) arrive at the abandoned family home of their now deceased parents with furniture covered in sheets, packed boxes and dusty bookshelves. This allowed the small cast to stay on the stage the entire time to explore the memories held within and have ‘stage business’ to do while their fellow actors had the spotlight.
While at times the memories helped serve the song, other times proved harder to make the connection between the character in the song and the setting. For these moments, we allowed a bit of creative licence and just went with the flow as essentially the songs are totally isolated vignettes set in different times and places.
The overall tying theme was individuals dealing with a major decision and how that decision affects their life. The contemporary musical was a challenge for the 4-hander cast as each member had to play multiple roles; all with their own back story and emotional journey. From a Spanish sailing ship captain, a widow of the civil war, an unwed teenage mother, and a college-aged commitment-phobe.
However, it was a challenge that the cast exceeded expectations and proved to be a great showcase for both the acting and vocal skill of these emerging artists, including Josh Daveta, Nick Hollamby, Rhiannon Moushall, and Alex Fiefers. (Understudies: Simon Chamberlain, Sam Huybregts, Kate Doohan, and Georgina Purdie).
The ensemble as a whole was brilliant performing Jason Robert Brown’s impressive soaring harmonies effortlessly – a credit to the musical director Luke Volker, who infused the ‘wow’ factor into the ensemble work and equally tight band in this mixed bag of musical styles including jazz, gospel, and contemporary music theatre.
A few standouts amongst the cast were evident, not least of all Rhiannon Moushall who played Woman 1. As one female audience member commented on Facebook after the show, “I have a new girl crush”. This claim is not unwarranted! Not only is Moushall extremely talented and versatile both in vocals and acting, but is endearing and entrancing to watch. Her renditions of ‘I’m not afraid of anything’ and ‘Christmas Lullaby’ were just gorgeous. She drew the audience in every time she held the spotlight, and even ensemble moments, eyes did tend to wander her way. I look forward to seeing her in more lead roles on the Brisbane stage.
Alex Feifers with the more comedic role of the two females also showed strong vocals and acting ability. Her crazed ‘on the edge’ neglected housewife in ‘Just One Step’ garnered a houseful of laughs and the Kurt Weill-esque ‘Surabaya-Santa’ was equally entertaining. ‘The Flagmaker 1775’ was a welcome change which allowed Alex to stretch and show a more serious side, rather than just being the comic relief character.
Josh Daveta also showed star potential with a ridiculous command of his vocal chords, which at times was reminiscent of Guy Sebastian’s vocal quality. ‘Flying Home’ and ‘King of the World’ not only showcased his singing ability but also his charisma as a performer – two equally important qualities for an upcoming star.
The actor who played Man 2 was the understudy the night I saw the show and unfortunately, I didn’t catch his name. While his vocals were of an equally high standard, his characterisation and emotional range weren’t as fully developed as the others. This was easily forgiven, given the understudy never has the same rehearsal time as the first cast.
If you don’t mind the song-cycle, review type show, and just like to appreciate really good singers, actors, and musicians, then get along to Phoenix Ensemble to see Songs For A New World which is playing at the Pavilion Theatre in Beenleigh till 23 March.