OGEDN — “Back by Popular Demand” reads the website advertisement for this production, and it is certainly true that Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a very popular musical in Utah. Having reviewed a production of Joseph just last summer, and having seen and participated in countless productions of the show in the past, one has a bit of uneasiness in approaching yet another Joseph interpretation. Will it be similar to the ones I have seen previous? Will I draw something new from it? How will the actors live up to the shows I have seen before, or will they surpass expectations? Can I give a fair review of the performance without bringing in my own personal experiences regarding the show? All of these things factor in when choosing to review a beloved play.
The songs and story are so familiar that most of the audience will have seen another production, and even more likely would be able to sing word for word the entire show. The story is, of course, based off the bible story of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob. If you can’t remember where to find the story in the Bible, the musical gives us a reminder that at least Potipher’s appearance can be found in “chapter 39 of Genesis.” The story follows the reaction of Jacob’s other 11 sons to Joseph’s capabilities and the perceived favoritism of the father to this son. The musical was developed by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (music). This was one of many projects by the duo, which include other shows such as Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar.
As the show began, I was pleased to see that for the first time in many years for me, there was only one narrator cast. I have seen as many as six narrators in Joseph, and while that can lead to great harmonies, it also leads to picking favorites, getting distracted, and forgetting that the show is really about Joseph and his brothers. However, the narrator is a difficult part, and can be quite tiring for one person, but Morgan Parry was up to the challenge from the start, and seemed to only get better as the night went on. She was animated in her telling of the story, and also seemed to be able to step out of the limelight when it was time for the other characters to shine. I in particular loved the opening of act two (“A Pharoah Story”), a moment when the narrator really gets to shine. Parry did so well at that particular number I found myself wishing to hear it again.
In regards to the production itself, I want to point out that I was impressed by the sound and lighting. The Ziegfeld Theatre company is housed in an old movie theater. The atmosphere is fun and family oriented, with popcorn concessions and other nice touches. But a small theater can often feel cramped, and good sound systems difficult to install in such an old building. However, Cameron Miller on sound and Joshua Winkler on lights really made the show come alive. Having seen several summer productions with sound malfunctions, the performance of Joseph stands out as one with an excellent sound balance between the music and the performers.
I also enjoyed the set design and costuming. One issue I have seen before in small theaters is putting too much on the stage, not allowing for the appropriate room for the performers to tell their story. The set of Joseph was authentic, creative, yet not overbearing. Austin Hull and Caleb Parry worked hard as scenic designers to ensure proper utilization of the space, especially for dance numbers. Another thing that I rarely notice was the excellence in the way of props. In particular, the amusing way the props were used to further the story and add to the songs, such as “One More Angel in Heaven” and “A Pharaoh Story,” made the show fresh and interesting, so praises to the entire prop team.
In any production of Joseph, the quality of voices in the 11 brothers as well as their chemistry is essential to the success of the production. These 11 brothers cast all had their unique capabilities, and their harmony was flawless. I also loved the parody of other popular musical shows, such as the surprise audiences will enjoy during the song “Those Canaan Days.” As for Joseph himself, played by Jason Baldwin, his voice was excellent, and even more enjoyable was the innocence he brought to the character. Joseph seemed to have a sense of humility that one might expect from a biblical character, but Baldwin also surprised me with the capability to hit the high notes with strength and conviction.
The choreography by Kacee Neff was one of the most enjoyable parts of the production. During the song “One More Angel in Heaven,” the cast has highly physical and complicated steps and stunts, all within a small space, and all executed flawlessly. Many of the other numbers exhibited the same level of entertainment.
Finally, a note on the production as a whole. Years ago, I saw a production of Mamma Mia!, and I remember thinking, “Who cares about the story or even the music? The cast is having so much fun, I wish I were a part of that!” I had the same thought last night at the Ziegfield. Director Sarah Baldwin seemed to get the essence of what a community show like Joseph should be about: An evening of entertainment for the community, and a few months of fun for the actors. Not only do I suggest that people spend an evening out seeing this production, I would go so far as to say if you get a chance, audition for a show at the Ziegfield Theatre, because I have not seen a group of people have such a fun time in a long time.