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PRAISE JOSEPH: ‘Dreamcoat’ brings the brass with big song-and-dance numbers

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Thalian Association has opened the completely sung-through musical to recount the events of the Old Testament story of Joseph.

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“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” has had an interesting career. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice started it before they hit the big time with “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Yet, even the success of “Superstar” was not enough to bring “Dreamcoat” an immediate professional production. Instead, it traced a long journey from school, amateur and college stages until the libretto was expanded from 15 minutes into a full-length production.

OH, BROTHER! Mark Logan will play Joseph and Sam Robinson will play Judah in Thalian’s latest technicolor musical. Photo by Mark Steelman

OH, BROTHER! Mark Logan will play Joseph and Sam Robinson will play Judah in Thalian’s latest technicolor musical. Photo by Mark Steelman

Thalian Association has opened the completely sung-through musical to recount the events of the Old Testament story of Joseph (Logan Mack). Quick refresher course for those unaware of the scripture it’s based on:

Jacob (Nick Williams) had two wives and 12 children, and Joseph was his favorite. Since this was pre-Dr. Spock, Jacob made the mistake of making his favoritism way too obvious. Thus, when his children were presented with an opportunity to rid themselves of their father’s favorite, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. After a stint in jail, he made a comeback as the second-hand man to the Pharaoh (Mathis Turner).

Webber and Rice’s desire to show off their writing skills are clear in the range of musical styles utilized to tell the story of the coat of many colors. There’s a country-western parody, as the brothers report Joseph’s “death” to their father  in “One More Angel in Heaven.”

Calypso can be heard in “Benjamin Calypso,” and Elvis parodies show up in the Pharaoh’s songs.

When compared against the success of “Superstar,” it becomes clear “Dreamcoat” was a learning experience. “Superstar” has a far more compelling and complex plot, as Judas and Jesus both have clear objectives and struggles of their own and with each other. Plus, the love interest subplot adds to the story. Making the villain essentially the hero of the story (because he is who the audience can empathize with most) helps create a more mature and compelling piece of theater.

By contrast, Joseph is just a leaf in the stream, going wherever events take him. He has no real decisions to make or aspirations to attain. Everything comes to him. The only real lesson he could learn is of humility, and it is never presented to him as an option.

The two leads, Narrator (Georgie Simon) and Joseph (Logan Mack), don’t grow or change at all. If anyone actually experiences profound growth and change, it is Joseph’s brothers. From a writing standpoint, that is an interesting choice for a stage script.

Simon’s rendition of Narrator is lovely. She hustles the story along, her voice is beautiful and it’s fun to watch her dance; she brings a charismatic quality, expected of genuine entertainers. But it is her work with the children’s choir that is my favorite. She manages to bring a feeling of a Sunday school teacher when interacting with them. Though W.C. Fields famously advised against working with kids, Simon seems to easily strike a balance between entertaining her co-performers on stage, and making them look good while controlling the moment. It is a lesson to the young performers of what generosity and professionalism looks like.

Together, she and Mack have a kind and reassuring relationship on stage. Mack has a nice voice and is cute to look at, and it’s easy to see how he would be Dad’s favorite. His acceptance of all events in life as divinely directed rather than a consequence of his own actions is a lesson in itself.

“Elvis is my favorite!” my date gushed enthusiastically on the way home. “Loved him!” By Elvis, he meant Turner’s Pharaoh, which is written as a series of Elvis song parodies and performed as an homage to the king of rock ‘n’ roll. Turner has a sultry low voice and a beautiful baby face that succeeds in capturing the sexual dichotomy of early Elvis.

“Dreamcoat” has a huge cast, and part of the fun of it is to get lots of people on stage for big song-and-dance numbers. Obviously, the children’s choir is focused on bringing all the kids to forefront to ensure the production is a family-friendly event. Piper Holmes, Milo Iapalucci, Preston Hardgrove, Julia Petersen, Elle Carter, Esme Madi, Danielle Deese, Bodi Reider, Natalie Alberti, Noah Pressley, Greydon Jirak, Bella Gonzalez, Alona Murrell, Jane Wright, PJ Eby, Gabe Homick, Garrett Reider, Lydia Wadsworth, Whitley Lennon, and Lily Mclamb absolutely are delightful to watch. The script began its journey as a project for a school choir, so the inclusion of the young ones is a beautiful through-line. The choir clearly is incubating the next generation of talent, so remember their names.

With 11 brothers, it’s easy to imagine Joseph’s family is basically a vaudeville act, looking for a booking. Ruben (Beau Mumford) takes the lead, singing the country-inspired “One More Angel in Heaven”—a huge dance number that fills the stage. But Sam Robinson’s Judah, singing “Benjamin Calypso,” stands out among the best. Robinson has a wonderful voice and refined showmanship. It is great to see him carry a number, especially one as fun as this.

Since the show’s title indicates an integral part of costuming, Jen Iapalucci had to ensure Joseph’s dreamcoat would be a marvel. Iapalucci made it beautiful and colorful. In fact, the design team clearly had fun with the show. Randall A. Enlow put together a visually dazzling set that plays well with Joshua Zieseniss’ and Alexis Turkington’s lighting, especially for the Pharaoh scenes and the big finale. Enlow has a really good understanding of how to pack visual punch, while not distracting from the action and still giving the performers a wonderful place to play.

The cast do a great job with the material: They sing beautifully and dance entertainingly. But this is supposed to be a sung-through musical, so a certain modicum of storytelling has to happen through action. Director Mike Thompson has put together a concert. Between songs, the cast stand on stage and wait for their next cue because they have been given nothing to do. The opportunity could have been used to build characters, move the plot forward, deepen the story, and even hint at a subplot, but it is completely lost. Audiences will be entertained, but it’s not a rendition that will deepen any connection to the material.

Apparently, much of the audience the night I attended was perfectly fine with it, judging by the hoots, hollers, whistles, and applause—certainly, the singers deserved the praise.

Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat
Through Feb. 17, Fri. – Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $32 •

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