WEST JORDAN — Community theatre. It’s a unique brand of the trade, one that can be theatre’s own monster or savior. I’ve seen community theaters put on some of the most innovative shows, and some of the worst. When creatting any type of theatre a director can make solid theatrical choices or poor ones. The problem is, when you’re directing community theatre an artist more than likely working with your friends and peers—and sometimes, friends won’t say when a director has made poor artistic choices. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Sugar Factory Playhouse and the West Jordan Arts Council was rife with poor directorial choices. I just wished the director’s friends would have told her so.
Before getting into the constructive criticism, it’s important to start with the good points. As the narrators, MeriLyne Michaelis and Katelyn Johnson were equally matched in vocal talent and stage presence. Their strong soprano and alto voices blended together seamlessly. Alex Taylor played the youngest brother, Benjamin; Taylor’s love of theatre and comedic timing were a hit again and again throughout the evening. Corbin Plozeck’s set was simple. Most of the pieces were animated and still projections which worked quite well in terms of design and visualization. As a whole, the ensemble cast had just the right amount of energy and vocal training to keep the show moving along and sounding, surprisingly, professional—especially in the larger numbers.
Now, here comes the constructive criticism. For at least four of the songs, the house lights stayed on. Yes, they had actors coming down the aisles lit by spotlight, but once on stage, the house lights never went out. I was pulled out of the moment for the entire song wondering why the house lights didn’t turn off. Perhaps there were technical issues, but because the house lights seemed to dim and go out correctly before each act, I doubt this was the reason.
Sugarhouse Theatre Factory used prerecorded music, which isn’t a problem normally. However, when there are long pauses—as one song ends and goes to the next track—the actors would hold their last positions and just . . . wait until the next song started. Not only was this awkward for the audience, but I could tell it was awkward for the cast. I could almost read the cast’s thoughts: “Has the next song started yet? No? Okay…I’ll just stay here…and keep smiling.” The worst part about using prerecorded music, especially in a show like Joseph, is that many songs start with no musical cue at all. The poor narrators would begin singing, and then about a measure or two later, the music would kick in. Either the track endings need to be shortened, or there simply needs to be more effort on the technician’s end to come in at the right moment.
The most grievous error wasn’t during the show at all. In fact, it was after the show. The finale number, “Any Dream Will Do (Reprise)” ended, and the Megamix (curtain call) was supposed to begin. Joseph unclipped himself from the massive coat, and the music for “Close Every Door” began. Director Marcy Muren then proceeded to have Joseph perform the song again as the “real” finale of the show (with the house lights on, by the way). I was shaking my head in disbelief. Why end the show—after a rousing finale—to revisit a song that was in the first act? Soon after, I realized the director had Joseph reprise “Close Every Door” so that the entire cast could change into their Megamix costumes. Instead of making the better choice to have the cast either do a quick change or just stay in the costumes they ended in, Muren chose to make a poor choice in radically changing the entire ending of the show.
Colyn Quinn played the iconic Joseph. Although he looked the part, Quinn’s vocal style had a more bright tone and pop feel than what is needed for the manly, grounded role of Joseph. Quinn did not seem to have a solid grasp on the deep emotions this role offers, and instead played the character softly with a touch of femininity.
Lastly, Muren should strive to shy away from homosexuality as a joke. She chose to have Potiphar (Mike Muren), play the character as a traditionally feminine, gay man for laughs. Nowhere in the source material is his sexuality mentioned. I felt they chose to portray Potiphar as a stereotype because it was funny (the man in front of me sure did enjoy it) without pausing to think what negative consequences could possibly result from showing a stereotype in a derogatory way. This is 2015. Not only do artists have to think about their audience’s demographics, but they should also think how that choice may have hurt members in the audience who may be gay or questioning their sexuality. To see—once again—see their sexuality portrayed on stage as a joke must be hurtful.
Now, you may be thinking that I’ve hit the theatre too hard. I remind the reader that the good news is that all of these issues are easily fixable. That’s one of the wonders of live theatre: changes can be made mid-run, and most companies in this state are always improving and always striving to perform the best show possible.
Earlier, I mentioned that community theatre could be it’s own monster or savior. Sadly, in the case of this Joseph, it simply devours itself with poor directorial choices. If you have family members friends in the cast, come see this show. If not, your $8 could be spent seeing something else, like Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out.