MAGNA — It isn’t summer in Utah without a few productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Empress Theatre’s production happens to be the third review of this Andrew Lloyd Webber show that I have covered for Utah Theatre Bloggers Association. The story is loosely based on the Old Testament story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, and the betrayal of his brothers, his rise to power within the land of Egypt, and the eventual family reunion. The music is well known and catchy, and it is something that people of different ages all seem to enjoy. I put the Empress Theatre’s production to the test by bringing my young daughters to the performance. I can happily report that both enjoyed the show immensely, and it seemed to be a good length for those who are newer in regards to the theatre to enjoy.
The Empress is an older restored theatre, and because of that, the vast majority of the seating is on the sides of the stage. Having seen several productions here, I have found that usually the staging is done in such a way that the audience can still enjoy the full performance. With this production of Joseph, however, I felt that a little too much of the action was played to the opposite of the side that I was sitting on, which left me wishing I had a different seat for part of it. In addition, some of the sound balance was off. The narrator, played by Ashley North, gave a strong performance. However often the sound of her microphone was not as strong as the music tracks, and when she was facing away from my audience side, it was difficult for me to hear her sing Tim Rice‘s lyrics. Had I not known the show, I would have perhaps had difficulty understanding part of the storyline.
There were a lot of clever little elements woven into this production, from humorous uses of things like selfie sticks to interesting animal props. Director Brighton Sloan made excellent choices in adding a bit of amusement to the show as well as incorporating things the audience would recognize and enjoy. Additionally, the lighting in the show (designed by Shaun Davis) was especially intriguing. Davis used a black light in the song “Go, Go, Go, Joseph,” and the costuming was chosen to emphasize that decision. In fact, it was apparent that Davis and costume designer Ty Whiting worked together on several elements, from the colors in Joseph’s coat to the colors in the lights during the opening number, and making sure those choices matched the entire feel of the show.
The choreography by Sarah Bringhurst was very fun. Some of the stand outs of the evening were the songs “One More Angel in Heaven” and the opening of Act Two. I found it easy to see why the narrator would reacted in an amused way to some of the Egyptian dancing. In addition, the actors who played Joseph’s brothers all had strong vocal harmonies, and I was impressed with the blending of the entire cast. Pharaoh, played by Blake Yelavich, was very impressive in his “Song of the King,” which is an Elvis parody that Yelavich played with just the right amount of flare.
As with any worthwhile production of this play, Joseph, played by Johnny Hebda, was perhaps the strongest part of the performance. In the number “Close Every Door,” Hebda’s stirring voice coupled with the interesting lighting design made that one of the best parts of the evening. Also, I really enjoyed the final number of the evening, where Hebda and North have a powerful duet in which their voices matched perfectly.
Overall, the creative staff at the Empress Theatre has created an entertaining production of an old Utah favorite that I would recommend especially for families or people who really like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.