When one thinks of the 1970s, one can often get dragged down into the “heavy stuff” Watergate, Margaret Thatcher, Pinochet, the Khmer Rouge, the founding of Microsoft, high inflation, high unemployment, the Iranian hostage crisis, the end of the Vietnam conflict, and the threat of nuclear war.
But then, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind the fun (if not tasteful) stuff: sequinned stretch-polyester, flares, disco dancing, pet rocks, mood rings, the Bee Gees, Barry Manilow and Donna Summer. And this is the stuff that Phoenix Ensemble’s Boogie Fever is all about.
With not much attention paid to historical accuracy, or indeed anything much deep at all, Phoenix Ensemble have donned their silver platform boots for a night of fun and silliness. Most of the cast never saw the ’70s first time around, but they’re definitely enjoying them now. In two-and-a-half hours, they bop their way through 20 or so hits ranging from “Living in the 70s” to “Father and Son” to “Lady Marmalade”.
Some of the songs are spoofs, some are sung straight. The pace is as uneven as the amplification and some numbers (particularly in the under-rehearsed second act) shouldn’t really have seen the light of day, but mostly we don’t care. We’re too busy singing along, because these are songs we all know and the band is cranking them out like nobody’s business.
The music is top-notch, and it’s the only thing that saves some of the numbers from crashing head-first into the realm of pub karaoke. The Tornados are definitely the funkiest, hippest, happeningest band never to have played 30 years ago. Musical director Alan Davidson is a pianistic force to be reckoned with, and the band’s solo foray into Peter Allen territory is a major highlight of the evening.
There are several other high spots. One is pint-sized Taylor Davidson performing her heart out in a very white Jackson 5, wearing a wig almost larger than herself. Then the ABBA boys (Luke Nutley and Brett Coates) go ahead and steal their medley from the girls, to great effect. This isn’t to say that the ladies don’t mostly do a good job: Karenina Gilliland’s strong “belt” voice is “Hot Stuff”, and Heather Scott manages to juggle choreography and a starring role quite effectively. Joe Mikkelsen’s Billy Joel medley could be transplanted in entirety into Good Morning, Australia without a blink, and he also has a good stab at the fiendishly difficult “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the end. We also look forward to seeing more of the mysteriously-monikered Rebecca of “I Will Survive” fame.
The MC (Frog Johnson) periodically harasses audience members into having a good time, a tactic which borders on irritating at some points but is welcome relief at others. An important word to the potential audience: if you are at all shy, do not leave during the show to visit the facilities, do not leave your mobile phone on, do not make any sudden movements, and do not ever, ever make eye-contact with the MC. This show is big on audience participation. You have been warned!
In all, Boogie Fever is a fun night out. It’s not Important Theatre, or even consistent theatre, but the infectious enthusiasm of the cast will have you warbling, almost despite yourself. The big chorus numbers are definitely tailfeather-shakeworthy, and there are one or two songs which might even make you want to surreptitiously get out the old LPs and groove around the living room when you get home.