Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Artistry
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule


Brandon A. Jackson (center) and Cast
Photo by Devon Cox
Artistry's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat gets the nascent 2017-2018 theater season off to a lively start, with a cast who sing and dance up a storm, a visually engaging design concept, and one of the most hummable musical theater scores of the last fifty years. Joseph started out in 1968 as a fifteen minute long cantata with music by a 20-year-old Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics by Tim Rice, his elder at 24. Its music brimming with youthful energy, its witty lyrics dripping with sincerity, the bauble was expanded, first to 35 minutes, and then to a "full length" of 75 minutes show. It was recorded but remained under the radar until Lloyd Weber and Rice's break-out success with Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970 brought attention to their earlier work.

The story of Joseph, part of the scriptural texts of Jews and Christians alike, is well known. As the youngest and favorite of his father Jacob's twelve sons, Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, ending up in Egypt where his skill as an interpreter of dreams draws the attention of the Pharaoh. Joseph's vision of the future spared the Egyptians from famine (the famous seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years) and led the Pharaoh to make Joseph his second in command. Back in Canaan, Jacob and Joseph's brothers are suffering from the famine, and journey to Egypt to seek relief, not knowing that the brother they betrayed will now be deciding their fate. Of course, the well-known conclusion (spoiler alert if you are one of the rare people reading this not to know how the story ends) is a happy one of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Lloyd Weber and Rice's creation is completely sung through, with a narrator who lays out each scene and the transitions between them. It opens with a ponderous prologue that segues into the lilting charmer, "Any Dream Will Do." The musical mockingly draws from a variety of musical styles—rock anthems, ballads, country-western, reggae, soul, and a splendid French cabaret number, "Those Canaan Days." The creators must have had a ball trying putting together this hodgepodge, fun that a production can capitalize on, so that giddiness and playfulness masks the inherently somber aspects of the story. After all, the Old Testament's purpose was not to amuse, but to instruct, or even indoctrinate. Lloyd Weber and Rice seemed intent on a spirited celebration of storytelling, rather than on the story.

The production at Artistry opens the doorway to this funhouse half way. It certainly moves with exuberance. Director-choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell has created fantastically energized dance numbers, performed by a terrific ensemble that seem to take flight each time their characters break into dance. Their vocals, too, are spirited, giving full voice to every one of the songs. For a show that is all song and dance, the dancing and singing on stage are stupendous.

And yet, for all the talent and energy, there is a sense of holding back, of avoiding the campy excess that can move Joseph from "sweet" to "joyful". The black and white visualization of the production, while highly inventive, contributes to a more serious, less jubilant atmosphere. The single all-white set, designed by Curtis Phillips, is made up of risers and stairs, all heading to a central altar-like space, seemingly representing a pyramid, with the seven-piece orchestra (sounding swell) perched atop. Three characters are costumed in white—Joseph, Jacob, and the Narrator—while the other actors, who all play multiple roles, are dressed in black and white. Their costumes seem to be an assortment of scavenged items (indeed, Barb Portinga is credited not as costume designer, but as costume coordinator), tattered and mismatched, along with various angular haircuts, all of which create a punk look, a look that absolutely stirs interest, but does not project fun.

The same esthetic seems to affect some of the performances. Jennifer Grimm as the Narrator, has a glorious voice, and she seizes several opportunities to embroider her songs with soaring, sustained notes—impressing one and all with her talent, but overlooking some of the humor within Rice's lyrics. John Jamison, as Joseph, also has an amazingly clarion voice, used to wonderful affect, most of all in the show's one moment of true heart, "Close Every Door." Because Joseph is really the straight-arrow among all the characters, Jamison's rendition is not lessened a bit by his beautifully earnest delivery. Brandon A. Jackson steps out of the company to play the Pharaoh, and he fares better at instilling mischief into his performance while showing off another great voice. "Song of the King" is usually performed as a riff on "the King" himself, Elvis Presley, but Jackson's take is closer to a James Brown blast of soul—equally rousing. Steven Meerdink hams it up a bit as Jacob, but the patriarch is not given all that much to do.

The sum is a totally enjoyable show, with its extremely catchy tunes, satisfyingly upbeat resolution, great dancing, and beautiful singing, especially by the two leads, Jennifer Grimm and John Jamison. To say it could burst with more color and tap more into the pointed humor of the piece, does not diminish the fact that Artistry's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat causes the audience to break out in broad smiles and frequent, wild applause.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues through August 27, 2017, in the Schneider Theater at Artistry, Bloomington Center for the Arts, 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, MN. Tickets: $38.00 - 41.00; age 62 and up: $33.00 - 36.00 - $36.00; Next Generation Tickets - Age 30 and under: $12.00. "Pay What You Can" performance on Monday, August 14. For tickets call 952-563-8375 or go to artistrymn.org.

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics: Tim Rice; Director and Choreographer: Michael Matthew Ferrell; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Associate Director and Choreographer: Kirsten Liams; Associate Music Director and Conductor: Jason Hansen; Set Design: Curtis Phillips; Costume Coordinator: Barb Portinga; Lighting Design: Jeff Brown; Assistant Lighting Designer: Erin Belpedio; Production Manager and Technical Director: Chris Carpenter; Stage Manager: Lee Johnson; Assistant Stage Manager: Kaeli Melin

Cast: Megan Kim Anderson (Company), Anne Brown (Company), Grant Fitzgerald (Company), Jennifer Grimm (Narrator), Michael Hasenmueller (Company), Brandon A. Jackson (Pharaoh/Company), John Jamison (Joseph), Christian LaBissoniere (Company), Alec Leonard (Company), Steven Meerdink (Jacob/Company), Ricky Morisseau (Company), Zakary Morton (Company), Aly Westberg O'Keefe (Company), Dan Piering (Company), Holli Richgels (Company), France Roberts (Company), Carrie Song McCollum Smith (Company), Joshua Paul McCollum Smith (Company), Elly Stahlke (Company), Angela Steele (Company), Austin Stole (Company), Brittany Marie Wilson (Company).


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