Phoenix Varity and Musical Group brought great energy and spark to this quirky musical. It was devised by Starkid Productions, which began in Michigan in 2009 and continues to produce musicals, many suitable for youth theatre companies. Firebringer, set in our cave-dwelling past, features a tribe of duck-worshippers (yes, indeed) who are the first to discover fire. While the mood is consistently ironic and comic, it raises many questions pertinent to humanity’s development. Among them are peace, war, belief and leadership, yet they also include the invention of dance and stand-up comedy. It’s a very influential little tribe.
Chelyah Tandler made her directing debut with this production and, along with the choreographer Annette Paterson, sustained the required focus and discipline. The cast used the limited stage space very well without the action appearing cramped. Remarkably, they managed to fit in the huge head and claws of the feared beast, expertly manipulated by three puppeteers as it emerged from the cave and terrorised its victims.
The play is written with female characters in most of the roles. The leading cast handled their characters well. Marley Banham played the rebellious Zazzalill with confidence and panache. She performed her songs very well, both the tuneful and rap, always giving a strong lead to the ensemble. As Jemilla, the tribal leader deposed by Zazzalill, Jasmine Gosewinkel was natural and convincing, and was always well received by the full house on opening night. Together, the two leads complemented each other’s performance very effectively, and in duet, accurately hit the harmonies.
Sam Mannix was calmly effective as Grunt, the outsider who invented painting. He sang well, and had a fine comic sense. His scenes with Emberley, sensitively played by Keahnee Clark, were both touching and amusing.
Justine Lewis admirably sustained the gruff character of Chorn, and skilfully handled her later transformation, while the remaining cast successfully supported the main action and were well focussed at all times.
Providing a reliable continuity to the whole piece, Lexie Dryden set and maintained the atmosphere as the narrator and former tribal leader Molag. She was sassy, insightful and irreverent in the role, comfortably sprinkling regular profanities as she went.
The choruses were enthusiastic and lively. They moved well, and after tuning problems early on, provided a good context to the story line.
The whole production had a satisfying appearance. The costumes, true to the musical’s origins, mostly evoked memories of the Flintstones, with some more colourful tribal flair for some characters. Similarly, the simple cartoon-style set was, given the restrictions of the stage size, most appropriate.
In brief, Firebringer, Phoenix’s opening production for the year, was lots of fun.