Saturday, January 07, 2006

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

What a difference a theater makes.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is the first production to audition, rehearse and perform in the Davis Musical Theater Company’s new Hoblit Performing Arts Center, at 607 Pena Drive. Though the theater is still not completely “finished,” and though the smell of paint still permeates the nostrils, there is already a sense that production values for DMTC are on the rise.

For one thing, there are marvelous new programs, designed by Heather Sheridan and Dannette Vasser, with real photos and cast bios included, something I’ve been asking for for years.

For another thing, the set (designed by Director Michael Miiller) looks like something built for the theater, not something built to be moved in and out quickly in the last week before opening. There is a strong, sturdy back wall, with 12 inset stained glass windows, representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, and a large double door through which central characters make their appearance, as from a dream, on a cloud of smoke. And there is a marvelous kalaidoscope of colorful geometric shapes on the stage floor. Before the first notes of the overture float up from the new orchestra pit, the audience has a lovely visual to take in.

“Joseph” was never intended to become the runaway hit that it has become. It was a 20 minute throw-away piece, written in 1968 to be performed by a London school group. It was not until 1973 that it was expanded into a full West End production and has now broken box office records around the world. The Guinness Book of World Records lists “Joseph” as the longest running touring musical production.

This is a show which can easily be a full blown musical with all sorts of special effects, or something a bit more modest to suit the constraints of a community theater such as the Davis Musical Theater Company.

As the title suggests, this is the story of Joseph (Ryan Adame), favorite son of Jacob (Rich Kulmann) and his wife (Julie Kulmann) and the jealousy of his 12 brothers, which lead them to sell their brother into slavery and convince their father that he had been killed, only to have Joseph become, by a series of curious circumstances, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. It is all told in a manner that was designed to entertain children. Bible stories lite.

“Joseph” cannot succeed without a strong narrator, who becomes both story-teller in the here and now and participant in the “back then” parts of the show. Andrea Eve Thorpe, last season’s Evita, handles the job masterfully and director Miiller has given her fun things to do. She looks beautiful, interacts delightfully with the children, and has that spark that makes you keep watching. It doesn’t hurt that she sings well too!

Ryan Adame as Joseph seemed to be having difficulty in spots getting the right key at the start of some of his songs, but he managed to get back on track handled the role well.

There is a small, but enthusiastic children’s chorus: Andrew Lampinen, Cass Olson, Lisa Parente, Rachel Pinto, Sara Pinto, Kaylynn Rothleder, Rebecca Rudy, Meghan Vanderford and the cute-as-a-button Linnea Lampinen, the youngest of the group.

Robert Coverdell, as brother Isaacher, does a wonderful rendition of the western hit, One More Angel in Heaven and has a striking on-stage presence, even when part of the ensemble.

Mike Jones was a commanding Pharoah, “The King.” His entrance lacked the pizzazz of the last time DMTC performed this musical, but he still made an impact and really got into his character.

Director Michael Miiller was also the show’s choreographer and created some nice visuals, particularly for the dancing wives, Marisa Casillas, Kris Farhood, Dian Hoel, Helen Spangler and Julia Spangler.

Jeannie Henderson outdid herself with the costumes, which ranged from blue sequined mini-skirts for the Egyptian wives to something so colorful and eclectic that it could have come from the costume shop of the old “Laugh-In” TV show.

As the cast took their bows and patrons began to leave the theater, perhaps a new DMTC tradition was born. Most of the audience gathered around the fence to the orchestra pit and stood there listening to what was almost an impromptu concert. The size of the crowd as they applauded at the conclusion seemed to be a surprise to conductor/keyboardist Eric Daniels.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat works well at the Hoblit Performing Arts Center and is a fun way to use all of the new DMTC toys to their best capacity.

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