Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May, 2003
My fourteen-year-old son Brandon was my date last Thursday for the opening of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Mac-Haydn. He is not under the same restrictions I am to keep professionally quiet and reserved throughout the show, and his comments were as follows:
“I had forgotten what a lot of fun this show is.” (Well, he can be forgiven for that since he was six the last time he saw it.)
“They always do such a great job at the Mac-Haydn.”
“That was a great show. You’ll give it a good review, Mom. Right?”
And having issued his orders, he exited the theatre. I was forbidden to sing any of the songs from the show on the drive home, just as I had been all the way to the theatre. When I retire from reviewing I am planning to become the Old Lady Who Sits On The Aisle And Sings Along.
So, in order to fulfill Brandon’s request, and to do right by my own instincts, I hereby urge you to “Go, Go, Go!” and see Joseph. It is a whole lot of fun, the Mac-Haydn does a great job, and I am giving it a good, nay, an excellent review.
Andrew Lloyd Webber was barely 20 and Tim Rice 24 when Joseph had its world premiere in 1968. Lloyd Webber was not without contacts in the music business – his father was William Lloyd Webber, director of the London College of Music, and his younger brother Julian is a concert ‘cellist. Andrew had a strong interest in the musical theatre and had been enrolled at Magdalen College, Oxford, but took time off and eventually dropped out altogether. The two young men were trying to find themselves artistically and personally in when the head of a boys’ prep school in London called and asked them to write a short cantata for his students to perform at the final assembly of the term.
Through the influence of Andrew’s father, the short piece based on a biblical text written by a couple of unknown youngsters was revised and expanded and given a second London production backed by a rock band. A few members of the press attended and one took a shine to the show. A third performance and a Decca recording followed. Over the next fourteen years, during which Lloyd Webber and Rice went on to huge fame and fortune with Jesus Christ, Superstar and Evita among others, the twenty minute children’s cantata Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was slowly expanded into a ninety minute Broadway musical in 1982. The Mac-Haydn, through diligent dancing, a healthy intermission, and an energetic “mega-mix” finale, brings the show in at one hundred and ten minutes even.
So Joseph is a small, sprightly thing written by two very young men for performance by a children’s chorus. Based on a timeless Bible story of jealousy, repentance, and the triumph of real talents and abilities applied honestly, Joseph is a perfect family show. Take grandma. Take the kids. Take the Rabbi, the Minister, and the Priest. Everyone will leave the theatre happy.
Director and choreographer Rusty Curcio, costume designer Vickie Bast, lighting designer Andrew Gmoser, and the whole company make the current Mac-Haydn incarnation of Joseph a glorious blast of color, sound, and motion. The show is sung through, and there is ALWAYS something wonderful happening in every corner of the theatre.
The Bible doesn’t always give women the leading roles, and so one of the innovations wrought along Josephs journey from school hall to Broadway was the introduction of a female Narrator, who takes most of the parts original sung by the children’s chorus. The Mac-Haydn has an attractive and very able Narrator in long-time favorite Karla Shook, who gets to herd an enthusiastic children’s chorus of her own through the proceedings.
Mac-Haydn newcomer Chad Heuschober plays the title role with an earnest innocence, energetic dancing, and a fine singing voice. Except for his solo Close Every Door to Me (one of Lloyd Webber’s best) at the close of Act I, Joseph does not really get to stand out from the crowd very much. Good thing he is wearing that splendid Coat of Many Colors!
Mac-Haydn vet John Baker takes on both of the older men in this story who have the wool pulled over their eyes. He is Jacob, deceived by his eleven remaining sons into believing his favorite, Joseph, is dead. And he is the wealthy Egyptian, Potiphar, who purchases Joseph as a slave, promotes him on the strength of his natural honesty and ability, and then is duped by his wife into believing that he has cuckolded him. The always outrageous Tiffany Thornton, as Mrs. Potiphar, provides the show’s only glimmer of sexuality, but keeps a foot on the floor at all times.
This is a show for the men of the chorus to really shine as that gaggle of “patriarchs.” Jamie Grayson as Levi, Scott Harris as Reuben, and David Bondrow as Judah do very well with their specialty numbers. I love to hear Grayson hit his low notes - listen carefully in the choral numbers. Nate Suggs gets to strut his stuff in an apache dance during Act II, but his capable catching is far overshadowed by partner Lisa Karlin’s astounding flexibility.
Brian Murphy lurks in the shadows as Brother Number Nine, until he bursts out of Pharoah’s robes in his white Elvis jumpsuit for a hilarious turn in The Song of the King. Throughout the show the talented Mac-Haydn ladies – notably Mac mainstays Thornton and Marcia Kunkel, but also newcomers Karlin and Jacqueline Lamptey – are put to good use. Again, listen in the choral numbers for their fine voices – onstage or off – adding to the “surround sound” effect.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs through June 1 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Rt. 203 in Chatham, NY. The show runs just under two hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-392-9292 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003