Saturday, April 13, 2002

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

There is one big thing wrong with Davis Musical Theatre's production of "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which opened Friday night at the Varsity Theatre. It's full of so many delightful sight gags and surprises that to mention them in a review would spoil the fun for people intending to see the production (and one would hope that includes most people in Davis--it's that good).

The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical retells the biblical tale of the tenth and favorite son of Jacob. The father's favoritism is demonstrated by his gift of a coat of many colors. In one of the Bible's more famous tales of sibling rivalry, Joseph's jealous brothers gang up on him, rip his coat and dip it in goat's blood, sell Joseph into slavery, and tell the father that Joseph has been killed.

While this may not seem fodder for a fun musical evening, the Webber-Rice script is a delight from start to finish. Originally written as a 15 minute program for children, reception was so great, that the writers expanded it into a full length musical, with varied musical styles, incluing rock, country and western, and calypso.

Under the hands of director Bobby Gainger, DMTC's "Joseph" is a high energy show with very few weak spots. To get the bad out of the way first, the sound system needs a bit more oomph. It is a shame that so much of the story is missed because even with body mics, the sound just can't get over the accompaniment of the on-stage band. If there is anyone who is not already familiar with the Bible story, some of the plot might be a bit difficult to follow. However, there is such visual fun that, as my companion noted, "who cared?"

The sound system was particularly unfair to the Narrator, Marilou Ubaldo. Ms. Ubaldo sparkles on stage with terrific stage presence, a great voice (proven in "Little Shop of Horrors" earlier this year), and infectious smile. That most of her lyrics were undecipherable was not her fault, but the fault of insufficient amplification.

Despite some pretty impressive theatre credits, Jeremy Starr doesn't yet command center stage, but he held his own as Joseph and shows promise. He has a wonderful voice.

Other principals give solid performances, especially Carl Dvorcek as Pharoah (no, I will not spoil the surprise). Clocky McDowell is a good Potiphar, the Ishmaleite to whom Joseph is sold. Amy Friedman is his wife, who attempts to seduce Joseph, and, as a result, gets him thrown into jail. Evan Monheit is a lot of fun as Joseph's brother Levi, singing "Those Canaan Days."

All of the brothers--Marl Valdez (Ruben), Francisco Goes da Silva (Simeon), Turtle Akona (Napthali), Jouni Kirjola (Isaachar), Ian Rothman (Asher), Clocky McDowell (Dan), Kenneth Fischl (Zebulon), Carl Dvorcek (Gad), Alex Matias (Judah) and Edward Bianchi IV (Benjamin) do a wonderful job. Bianchi also appears as the child, reading the bible at the start of the show who morphs into Joseph in a really pretty impressive on-stage sleight of hand.

But the real stars of this show are the director (Grainger), choreographer (Lori Jones), musical director (Steve Isaacson), Costume designer (Jean Henderson), lighting designer (Arthur Vassar), and set designer (Mark Allen). With the possible exception of Ubaldi, no one performer stands out as exceptional, but all working together under the direction and design of the backstage crew create a whole that is simply outstanding.

Jones has choreographed several dance numbers which are far and away the best I've seen on the DMTC stage. With high energy imaginative staging and obvious hours of work to create cohesion, they are not to be missed.

Vassar's lights are spectacular, especially in the title song.

Henderson has had great fun with her costumes. Without giving anything away, the costumes for the girls in the Pharoah's number were inspired.

Allen's stage is fairly plain, but the elements he brings to it--like a sphynx and a pyramid or two, greatly added to the fun.

It was also fun to see the band on stage, though having a band on stage always presents projection problems for the performers, as in opening night. Still, the antics of Isaacson were fun to watch and the show would have suffered had the band been offstage, as they usually are.

"Joseph" is not perfect. But this production comes as close to perfect as I've seen at DMTC. It's a great show for kids and adults who accompany them will not be disappointed either.

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