LOGAN — I was raised on musicals. Growing up I often watched the movies, attended performances, participated in shows, and even listened to the records while singing along and dancing around the living room. But of all the classics, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was my mother’s favorite—which means I have seen it dozens of times, and even performed in it myself. With this kind of background, it was with a great deal of nostalgia and excitement I entered the Ellen Eccles Theatre for the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre’s production of Joseph. Despite my familiarity with the show, I was soon pleasantly surprised by the subtle additions and artistic approach of this production.
The classic musical—with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber—tells the Bible story of Joseph, who dreams that he will soon rise above his eleven brothers. The dreamer was always his father’s favorite, and he had the multi-colored coat to prove it. Joseph’s brothers, however, are not pleased with this nepotism, so they fake his death and sell him into Egypt as a slave.
From extra dance scenes and slight changes in the music to a cell phone snapshot on stage, director and co-choreographer Valerie Rachelle took several artistic liberties with the show. She also took advantage of every opportunity to showcase the talent of every member of the cast. For example, instead of glossing over Potiphar’s wife and insinuating that she was a loose woman, Rachelle gave her an entire dance number to prove it.
Jonathan Hoover, who played Joseph, brought a lot of energy to the stage and had many occasions to showcase his impressive dance skills. Hoover took a novel approach to the score and ensured that his performance would be a unique experience. I didn’t like all of the innovations in Hoover’s singing—such as the extra notes or changes to “Close Every Door to Me”—but I appreciated the risks he took. Vanessa Ballam gave an enthusiastic performance as the Narrator. She took a bit of a different spin on the part, making the narrator blend into the background and tell the story without stealing the spotlight. Ballam had strong vocals, but her voice had an operatic tone to it that sounded a bit different from what most audience members will expect to hear in a musical. I question how well Ballam’s operatic singing style meshed with the eclectic Joseph score.
The ensemble as a whole did a phenomenal job bringing this story to life and stole the show. Their boundless energy, strong vocals, and intricate choreography kept my full attention. I appreciated the extra scenes—such as the dance break during “Those Canaan Days”—so I could gape in awe at their incredible dance skills. Every member of the ensemble stayed in character and shone like they were each the star of the show.
The set—designed by Patrick Larson—was shaped as a giant playground, and rotated with each scene. This added a unique element, diversifying the staging as the actors moved up, down, and around the set pieces. But the set also limited the audience’s view from certain angles. One the other hand, the costumes were amazing. Right down to the gold sequins on the men’s white stretchy pants, costume designer Phillip R. Lowe focused on the details to put together an impressive wardrobe for the large cast. The narrator, however, was dressed in a tan dress with a poncho-style sweater and a ponytail. I would have liked to see her in something a little flashier to help her stand out in the scenes. But perhaps her bland costume was meant to focus the attention on the story at hand rather than the teller.
This was definitely the most artistic version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat I have ever seen. And as the festival’s creator, Michael Ballam, said in the program, “We have over two decades of tradition in breathing new life into the oldest and grandest of all art forms, opera.” This can be applied to musical theater as well, as this performance proved. Come see the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre breathe new life into this beloved classic, experience the artistic spin, and relive the story all over again.