LOGAN — I have a confession. In all my years as a theatre student, patron, and critic, I have never had a chance to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on stage. I am not sure what rock I have been living under, because it is one of the most frequently mounted shows in Utah, but I just never had a chance to see it until now. Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre’s production of Joseph was one of the most exciting nights of theatre I have had in a long time. It is perfect for first-time viewers, as well as those who keep coming back to this classic, well-loved musical.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Joseph is based on the story from the bible as told by the Narrator (played by Adrien Swenson), who is reciting the story to a group of young children. The genius of the show is that it takes a story the audience knows well and then plays with how the story is told. Swenson’s voice is incredible and commanded my full attention, drawing me into the story during the “Prologue (Some Folks Dream).” She introduces the audience to the title character, Joseph, performed flawlessly by Timothy Stewart, who gives an astounding performance. His sonorous tenor fills the theatre in the iconic “Any Dream Will Do” and has a vast range of emotion in his heartbreaking solo “Close Every Door.” I also enjoyed the humor he brought when Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him after watching him do a bit of a bend and snap.
I cannot say enough about how amazing the lead characters of Joseph and the Narrator are in this show, but the supporting cast are impressive too. Pharaoh (played by Michael Colman) is a hilarious Elvis-type character in “Song of the King” as he gyrates through his song about his dream. The eldest brother, Reuben (played by John Tibbetts) adds a nice twang to his base voice in “One More Angel in Heaven” and is highly amusing as he switches from fake sorrow in front of Jacob, to hootin’ and hollerin’ that Joseph is gone.
Brother Simeon (played by Nathaniel Voth) shines in “Those Canaan Days” in the second act. The song is a parody of a French ballad, and all the family raised their berets and lamented the state of affairs. Voth’s French accent was perfect and made starving in a famine somehow really funny. All of the vocals in the group numbers were spot on and beautifully tuned with the orchestra under the direction of James M. Bankhead. The live orchestra is superb and gives an energy and pacing to the show that is impossible to replicate with a recording.
The technical elements of Joseph all blend together brilliantly under director Valerie Rachelle, choreographed the production. Rachelle’s choreography is as diverse as it is demanding of her dancers, and they all rise to the occasion and give outstanding performances. The opening and closing number of “Any Dream Will Do” uses American Sign Language for movement and is restrained and beautiful with the children’s choir. Then the dancing really kicks into high gear with “One More Angel in Heaven” looking like it was choreographed by Michael Kidd from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers fame. The big dance numbers are all challenging, as Rachelle uses classics from dance history like the Charleston, Fosse jazz, 1970s go-go, and an impressively difficult tango. Each number held something new and different from the last, keeping the night interesting.
The set designed by Patrick Larsen is the only understated element to this outlandish spectacle. The set has a stark, angular, and industrial feeling. It provides different levels and is versatile as it rotates to different positions, but is steel gray. This is a big contrast to the costumes, lights, and dancing, which exploded with color. I was curious about this choice, but in the end I think the sets simple lines and palette showcased the actors and costumes and made them stand out more by not overwhelming the eye.
The lighting for the show was designed by Chris Wood and really enhances the show. Sometimes it was big and obvious, like the fly-in “GO GO GO” sign during “Go Go Go Joseph” that lights the stage up like a disco. But other times it was beautifully subtle, like when the Narrator and Joseph stand in spotlights and show how alone Joseph was in jail. Then the children’s choir join Joseph with dodecahedron lamps shining out and symbolizing that the twelve tribes will share their light and multiply. It was a perfect and simple symbol, making it so effective. I also liked the gobo for stars at the end of “Pharaoh’s Story;” I got goosebumps seeing the stars lifting up to the sky as Swenson’s Narrator was belting the last refrains of the song.
The costumes, designed by Amanda Profaizer, were beautiful and made me love the show even more. Each group had a distinct palette to differentiate them. The modern children and Narrator were dressed in pastel shades, contrasting from the bright tones of the characters in the story. Jacob’s family has stripes and bright jewel colors, the brightest of which being Joseph’s famous coat. The coat has all the colors, as well as symbols of the star of David, sun, moon, and stars. It is easy to see why the brothers would be jealous of such a fine technicolor coat. Profaizer’s design makes it easy to tell the brothers apart, as they all have their names emblazoned on their costumes. Joseph is sold to a hairy crew of passing Ishmaelites, who were cruising past while looking like a 1990s grunge band. This contrasted from the Egyptians, who were very neat in black and gold in Potiphar’s house, or white and teal and gold in the Pharaoh’s palace. Pharaoh’s Elvis-like white jumpsuit was fabulous. Before the band struck the first notes, it was obvious that the King was in the house.
There really is not much I can say that is critical of this show. There were only a few bars that the singing wasn’t totally in harmony. There were only a few measures where the dancers were not in synch. But my criticisms are all really trivial.
I do not know why I put off seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but I am grateful that my first time was with Utah Festival Opera. The Narrator and Joseph are remarkable in both their singing and acting performance, and the technical designs for the show are marvelous. The polish and spectacle that Utah Festival Opera achieve will please all patrons, from first timers to die-hard fans and show why people keep coming back to this well-loved classic.