Way, way back many decades ago, not long after Lloyd Webber began — actually before his big “Superstar” explosion — Sir Andrew (assisted by Tim Rice) created “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
It was short, it was snappy, it was made up of several music styles including pop, rock, jazz, calypso, ballad, Charleston. The music stretched from one end of the narrative to the other leaving very, very little room for dialogue.
Best of all, the original pop cantata, written in 1968 for a British boy’s school, was only 15 minutes long.
By its third choral performance, however, it had expanded to 35 minutes and included several new songs. The universality of its theme and the mixed genre of musical styles formed the basis for a full — albeit short — production which finally landed on Broadway in 1982.
Since then, it has become the favorite of civic groups, choruses, schools and community theaters everywhere.
One good thing about “Joseph,” in addition to its brevity, is its extreme flexibility. Based on the Book of Genesis, the story and its characters can be set anywhere in any time or place. It is definitely a “feel good” musical which appeals to an audience of all ages. This was apparent last weekend when
“Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” opened the 2017 season for South Bend Civic Theatre.
The major plus for this production is vocal. The 17-member company delivers solo and ensemble numbers with obvious enthusiasm and solid musicality. The use of head microphones by the leading characters is never overpowering and the lyrical narrative is easily understood.
The recorded orchestral track for the most part provides the right level of accompaniment. It is, however, unfeeling and if a singer starts incorrectly, he has to find his own way back on track. There is no “live” accompanist to help him along.
For those who have seen it before, there are no surprises in this “Joseph.” The opportunity to take it in any different direction is missed.
The Narrator (Natalie MacRae-Waggoner), a veteran of area musical productions, does not disappoint. From the opening “Prologue” to the final “Any Dream Will Do,” she fills in the missing storyline and vocally moves the plot along with a strong, full soprano and an easy presence.
Joseph (Mark Kosten) romps through family intrigue and Egyptian employment problems with a stoic air, an ingratiating grin and a pleasant baritone voice.
Always an audience favorite, Pharoah (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey) delivers a royal Elvis and earns applause for articulating “Song of the King,” his rock ‘n roll entrance, which most Pharoahs render unintelligible. His Elvis was constricted, movement-wise, by the shiny sheet which passes for a royal robe and inhibited his efforts at a real Presley swivel.
En route from Israel to Egypt, Joseph’s 11 brothers work their wicked ways with obvious delight and eventual regret. Led by Reuben (Ryan Clubine), they cover their brotherly sale, lying to dad Jacob (Brad Mazick) cowboy style (“One More Angel in Heaven”), but finally give up the ghost (and their very last sheep) with Simeon (Alexander Bobbs), recalling “Those Caanan Days.”
Both soloists have strong voices and double as Pharoah’s Butler (Bobbs) and Egyptian billionaire Potiphar (Mazick).
Sarah Holaway, Kat Quirk and Shelly Overgaard form the all-purpose trio that doubles and triples in a variety of roles from Pharoah fans to hairy Ishmalites.
As Mrs. Potiphar, Overgaard has the evening’s best line. Working to seduce Joseph, who has been purchased by her billionaire hubby, she responds to his rejection with the line: “Pity. We could make Egypt great again.”
Costuming here is best described as slipshod, with no attempt at setting period or locale, The giant set is imposing if not impressive.
The lighting design would benefit from the inclusion of spotlights on soloists. Joseph sings most of his solos in half-light. It is better to see faces!
Director Jim Geisel wisely opted to eliminate the chorus of children added late in the game, as well as the Megamix, also a late addition, which requires the cast to review the entire show in quick time.
With one intermission, this “Joseph” is really family-friendly, running just under one and one half hours.
“JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT” plays through Feb. 12 in the SBCT Wilson Theatre, 215. W. Madison St., South Bend. For show times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org