Monday, July 2, 2012
Theater review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Wyly Theatre in Dallas
This entire production should go right to the bright lights of Broadway.
SPECTACULAR, BREATHTAKING AND STUNNING… Dallas Theater Center reinvents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (playing through August 12) so successfully it should go directly to Broadway as an "Official Revival" of the musical theatre classic!!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with lyrics by Tim Rice. The story is based on the "coat of many colors" story of Joseph from the Bible's Book of Genesis. This was the first Lloyd Webber and Rice musical to be performed publicly. (Their first musical, The Likes of Us, was written in 1965 but was not performed until 2005.)
Joseph was first presented as a 15-minute pop cantata at Colet Court School in London in 1968 and was recorded as a concept album in 1969. After the success of the next Lloyd Webber and Rice piece, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph received stage productions beginning in 1970 and expanded recordings in 1971 and 1972. While still undergoing various transformations and expansions, the musical was produced in the West End in 1973 and its full format was recorded in 1974 and opened on Broadway in 1982. In 1999 a straight-to-video film starring Donny Osmond followed.
The show has no spoken dialogue, it is completely sung. Its family-friendly storyline, universal themes and catchy music resulted in numerous productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, according to the Really Useful Group, and by 2008 more than 20,000 schools and amateur theatre groups had successfully put on productions.
I have to admit when I knew I was attending a production of Joseph, I wasn't really excited. I have seen so many performances of the musical, and in most cases it is virtually the same with only a few artistic variances. "Color" me surprised when within two minutes of the production actually starting (in a wonderfully different way) I was smiling, excited and taken in with this new conceptualization of the musical standard. In fact, every aspect of the presentation is new, artistically stunning and completely "Amazing"!
The show is presented at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, which is a stunning, award-winning facility with technological wonders that are some of the best in the world. For this production the stage is laid out in a thrust with the audience literally up against the stage. You don't realize what is going to happen (and I won't reveal the spectacular surprise) to the stage itself, but it is an amazing feat of design and skill. Your mouth will drop open, as mine and most of the audience's did, when it occurs. It's only a foreshadowing of the visual, vocal and dance extravaganza that follows. Simply put, it is remarkable.
Direction and choreography by Joel Ferrell cannot be given enough high praise. Every aspect of blocking, staging and transitioning is perfect throughout the entire production. Mr. Ferrell's concept places the musical's story in a museum, in present time, even integrating today's technology. This fresh new approach allows him to use a massive youth ensemble and a featured ensemble from Dallas' own Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts. The young performers almost never leave the stage. Mr. Ferrell makes them visitors to the museum and integrates them stylishly into every production sequence.
This exciting new setting allows him to make the "Narrator" of the story the museum guard that takes the kids on an amazing journey. Also acting as choreographer in the production, Mr. Ferrell scores another huge hit with his dance and movement sequences. He uses fresh new references to today's social status quos with personas, music and dance steps.
I would have never expected a rap, cheerleading, or table dance scenes in Joseph, but Mr. Farrell throws them all in, and more, with a stunningly talented and very large cast. Some of the large full cast dances seem to be directed more to the front of the thrust but in no way does that choice alter the eye-popping performances. Mr. Farrell is just amazing in both genres of direction and choreography!
Eugene Gwozdz as musical director and conductor of the live band is another example of enormous talent in this new version of Joseph. Almost every song has been re-orchestrated with fresh new sound and exciting vocal styling. Changes in vocal keys, rhythms and overall presentation of the music in this iconic show are nothing short of remarkable. All the outstanding artistic re-styling still pays homage to the music and lyrics and is respectful to the original. His conducting of the live band on stage is another remarkable achievement by Mr. Gwozdz. He accents his performers, never overpowering them, and perfectly guides the show along. When the band is supposed to shine and knock your socks off, it does with power, conviction and skill. All of this is achieved throughout the production with something that impresses me even more. Keep an eye on the bandstand throughout the production, its presence becomes a new character in the story that you will just not believe.
Scenic designer Bob Lavallee presents a stunningly, outside-the-box set for this production. Every aspect is new, exciting and unexpected. Massive set pieces become multiple locations, entrances and integral parts of the story that are accented by beautiful painted stage walls and flown-in extras. The opening of the show is particularly awe inspiring which lets you know what you will see later is going to be even more exciting. Mr. Lavalle keeps the present time period of the setting by using hilarious local references with iconic signage and billboards altered to fit the story's new concept. Throughout the entire production you are given eye-popping scenic elements that are amazingly fluid. I believe this is the best scenic design and application I have ever seen in live theatre. Congratulations Mr. Lavallee on a spectacular job!
Costume design by Wade Laboissonniere paired with wig and makeup design by Cookie Jordan work hand-in-hand for pure visual perfection in this production. The costumes are elaborate, exciting and surprising. Great detail to the performers' needs is paid attention to, never once impeding the action on stage. As part of the fresh new concept with this Joseph, Mr. Laboissonniere adds exciting new elements in design. Most people who are familiar with Joseph know the "coat of many colors" is an enormous aspect of the show. I have never seen a reveal like the one in this production; it is remarkable and just too cool to believe. Jordan's over the top wigs and hair pieces are spectacular and compliment the costumes well, only accented more by the truly artistic makeup applications. These two designers achieve nothing less than synergetic excellence on the stage.
Lighting designers Grant Yeager and Jeff Croiter create visual splendor throughout the production. This creative duo showcases the technology of the Wyly using multiple automated fixtures with dazzling colors and patterns to enhance every bit of the action on stage. Full stage, energetic numbers are flashy and timed perfectly with the scene and quiet, intense moments are strikingly direct and poignant. Lighting effects are everywhere around you and you are engulfed in the visual spectacle they have created. Massive flown-in set pieces with exciting built-in lighting effects wow you, and simple touches like subtle LED effects on the back walls and massive set pieces throughout the show make you feel like a child at Disney. Never once are you disappointed with the visual aspect of this show, quite the opposite… you are left awestruck. It was then no shock to me while researching the show, I learned one of the designers, Jeff Croiter, won this year's Tony® Award for "Best Lighting for a Play" for Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway. His work for DTC is just as award winning for this creative team!
Sound design by Charles Parsely II is again another piece of this successful puzzle. Sound effects and vocal manipulations are perfectly placed when called for. Again, this fresh new concept calls for additional ideas in sound and his design is spot-on. Special effects, like the voice of God, are truly amazing and rumble the very foundations of the space. There are, however, problems with the sound operations. The cuing of microphones for vocal entrances was off and levels were not quite on target. Although somewhat of a distraction throughout the musical, it's not a complete cause of failure to the production as a whole. Strong sound board operation in a production so heavily dependent on it is extremely important. Excellence in execution allows for great comedic moments and wonderful vocals not to be lost or missed, but given the finest in audio presentation they deserve.
This is one of the most amazing compilations of talent I have ever seen on one stage together. This production hosts a huge cast, none of which are ever sub-par at any time throughout the performance. The cast, some of the youngest being age 10, are without a doubt Broadway caliber. EVERY performer lights up the stage EVERY moment they are on it. The casting in this production is perfect and demands extraordinary talent to pull of this new version of Joseph. There are some well deserving high accolades to just a few of the stand-out performers though.
Liz Mikel (a multiple COLUMN AWARD WINNER) as the Narrator is truly an exceptional performer! As one of Dallas' very own, Ms. Mikel is nothing less than the area's best example and crowning achievement of stage presence, vocal perfection and commanding characterization. There is something magical when she is on stage that you just can't look away. Very subtle actions and all out boisterous scenes make you realize this is a woman that will garner accolades from every genre for many years to come. This is Ms. Mikel's first production at DTC after returning from a critically acclaimed run as "Hetaira" in Broadway's Lysistrata Jones. It is a pleasure to have her back in Dallas, however be sure to see her now as I'm afraid we'll lose her to the bright lights of Broadway again soon… she is simply spectacular!
Sydney James Harcourt, who plays the title role of Joseph, is another exceptional performer in this production. It was a perfect call to have him return to the DTC stage after last summer's hit production of The Wiz. Mr. Harcourt gives this revitalized Joseph an amazing personality matched only by his vocals. You are mesmerized by his soaring tone while singing and thoroughly entertained when he gives his character comedic style. Also not to be overlooked is his dance and movement skill. Again, there is just not enough praise to be given to his performance as Joseph… he is just a thrill to watch!
Chamblee Ferguson, in the roles of Jacob, Potiphar and Pharaoh, is remarkable. Mr. Ferguson takes these roles to all new heights. You'll be rolling in the aisles with his characterization of the Pharaoh. His vocal styling, stage presence and everything he gives you as a performer is unmistakably professional. There is a reason he is a multiple COLUMN AWARD/DFW Theater Critics Award winner and I'm sure he will receive many more from this performance.
Every person that takes the stage in this production all work together as a well-trained and refined company to present an outstanding presentation of Joseph. It was truly my pleasure to watch then ALL on stage!!
Dallas Theater Center's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is simply a smash hit you must see. With over 20 years in this industry, I personally believe this entire production should go right from the DTC stage to the bright lights of Broadway, sharing this extraordinary revised musical with NYC and the thousands of theatre goers from around the world!
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