Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for an all boys school in 1968, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has a hodgepodge of musical styles from a cowboy ballad to French accordion music. It’s a fast paced romp that follows the Biblical story of Joseph, the favorite of Jacob’s sons, who is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and yet is able to fulfill his prophetic dreams of becoming a great man. Typically, the musical is staged with Biblical styled costumes and settings. Director, Stephen Fort set out to reimagine the production set in 1930s America through the lens of a Ziegfeld Follies theatrical revue. He hoped that he would refresh the musical for a new audience while still satisfying the expectations of long time fans.
Fort’s reframing of the story is a bold one and also largely successful. Joseph is enthusiastically paced as it gallops from one musical number to the next. There is constant motion, even in the transitions between songs, so that the audience is taken on a nonstop ride through a very familiar story without being given the time to wonder why we are suddenly in Paris or the Caribbean. The musical is on par with a theme park ride and the audience loves every turn. My favorite transition is the brilliant decision to have Natalie Slawnyk change costume from Naphtali to Potiphar’s Wife onstage as the set turns with a new piece of the costume on each side of the rotating set. It is cleanly executed and harkens to a follies style strip tease. Fort makes another bold choice in taking the one strong female role of the narrator and splitting it among three performers. This works primarily because musical director, Jantz Black has created a wonderful harmony in their songs. The voices of Grace Johnson, Sara Groth, and Katie Crombe, blend beautifully. While their voices mesh beautifully, some differentiation in their characters would make them more interesting.
The massive rotating pyramid is nearly a character itself onstage. As audience takes their seats, we are instantly transported into the world Fort is about to reveal. It is magical and theatrical. Each side of the set is uniquely designed and yet exists as a uniform pyramid. The design by Evan Lewis is functional with three stages of levels for performers, and passages to the other sides of the set that are incredibly convenient for the masterfully executed quick changes. With the help of the lighting design by Ken Phillips, the audience is transported to multiple locations seamlessly. This enormous set has the potential for huge problems in blocking and choreography, yet if this obstacle existed it was certainly overcome. Kelli Jolly choreographs each number so that actors of all skill levels can execute fun, vibrant dance moves while also allowing the more skilled dancers, like Audrey Fillmore, their moments in the spotlight.
As a spectacle musical, the costumes for Joseph have to be just that, spectacular - especially Joseph’s coat of many colors. Crystal Wilkerson-Diaz (Costume Design) does not disappoint. Joseph’s coat of many colors shines brightly onstage. It even has the color-changing sequin fabric that is so popular today with kids. It fit Joseph (Nick Alfano) wonderfully and it even had the iconic “peacock” tail construction made famous by the film with Donny Osmond. All of the costumes fit the styles of the songs. The costume for Potipher’s wife, with it’s puffy feathered sleeves was the most Ziegfeld in style. More use of feathers and large headdresses might have carried that Ziegfeld theme even further and upped the ante on spectacle. As a film nerd I was especially geeked to see the narrators embody the Technicolor symbol by donning primary colors in the first act and secondary colors in the second - a subtle nod to the corporation that brought color to film and the title to this musical.
Nick Alfano is endearing as Joseph. His joyful exuberance onstage ensures that a character that the audience could despise for his prideful entitlement is instead charmingly naive. Alfano makes bold character choices and expresses them with a strong physicality. Joseph’s brothers steal the show, particularly in the song “Those Canaan Days” which has a brilliant comedic moment when the brothers turn their harmony into the sound of flies buzzing about their faces and Stephen Holty (Simeon) eats one. Other notable performances include True Rogers whose voice as Potiphar is as slick as his suit, Matt Schramm’s expressive singing as Reuben in “One More Angel in Heaven”, and Kelley Gray as Judah in “Benjamin Calypso”. The ensemble is strong in this show. So many of them are so engaged and energetic that they are a joy to watch. Unfortunately there are one or two ensemble members who have muted expressions or do not sell the choreography, making them a momentary distraction to an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Center Stage’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a fast-paced hoot. You are sure to laugh at the antics and marvel at the talent. For his first time directing a musical, Stephen Fort has struck gold with an excellent team of performers, directors, and designers who all brought his unique vision to the stage. If you can still find a ticket, do not miss this musical.
Additional credits: Rachel Jingles (stage manager), Crystal Dillard (assistant stage manager), Justin Hodge (sound designer), Sarah Smith (prop master), Jean Ciampi (assistant prop master), Henry Dufour (light board operator), Jeremy Hanson (sound board operator), Marie Andrews and Jasmine Roseberry (spotlight operators)
Performances: May 3-19, Friday and Saturday at 7:30; Sunday at 3
Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 989-631-8250 or going online https://www.mcfta.org/event/joseph-technicolor/e25276/