The Magical Morphin’ Dreamcoat | “Joseph … Technicolor Dream Coat” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (5 Star Theatricals)Sunday afternoon we saw the first show of the 2017-2018 5 Star Theatricals (FB) Premiere season, even though we’ve been subscribing at the theatre for 16 years, since the 2000 season. Perhaps I should explain. Over the summer, what was Cabrillo Music Theatre was rechristened “5 Star Theatricals”; we, however, have been subscribing since Anything Goes in the Fall of 2000 (with the exception of the 2014-2015 season). Over that time, we’ve seen a wide variety of shows at the theatre — including, way back in Summer 2003, a little show called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as part of the 2002-2003 season. As part of the 2017-2018 season, 5-Star opted to revive the show at 14 years and see if they could find something fresh in it. The result was an interesting updated take on the show: some aspects worked, and some didn’t, but overall it was quite enjoyable. [I’ll note that 5-Star is reviving yet another show they’ve done before later in the season: they last did Beauty and the Beast back in 2007, 10 years ago.]

Now, this isn’t our first experience with Joseph. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a late 1960’s pop cantata, 35 minutes long— it was the first published work by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. After the success of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, it was rewritten and lengthened with some novelty musical numbers — but at its heart, it is a simple pop cantata, essentially sung through.  I know, I’ve had the original pop cantata album for years. It tells the Biblical story of Joseph from the incident with the coat of many colors through the brothers return to Egypt through pastiches of musical styles, and is — to put it succinctly — cute. It requires some strong lead vocals, and has loads and loads of choral parts. The first time I saw the show on stage was the tour of 1982 Broadway Show when it was at the newly remodeled Pantages theatre  — in fact, I think it was one of the first shows after the remodeling. Since then, it has been lengthened a little each time it hits Broadway again. This adds material, not depth. None of this is anything to those who license it can change. The most recent time that I’ve seen the show was in December 2014, when it was performed by Nobel Middle School.

So if the text of the show can’t be changed, and the lyrics of the songs can’t be changed, how does one freshen the show. The answer is simple and triparte: staging, dance, and music. Although the story can’t be changed, the director (in this case Will North (FB)) can adjust the energy and diversity of the cast to influence the story’s perception; the addition of children and wives, in only singing roles, can influence the cuteness. The director can also influence the staging of the scenes in both positive and negative ways. The dance styles of the show are not fixed (unlike, say, West Side Story where Jerome Robbin’s dance is part of the staging). In this case, 5-Star selected a choreographer, Dave Scott (FB), who comes not from the theatre world but the modern pop “hip hop” dance world — and he brought a very different dance sensibility to the show. Lastly, the Musical Direction (in this case by Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB)) can slightly adjust songs — lengthening them through reprises, or introducing extended dance breaks in a piece. All three of these things were done in this production to make it slightly different than past Josephs.

Did it work? That’s a different story, but for the most part, the answer is yes.

There were some staging elements that had me scratching my head. In particular, during “Those Canaan Days”, there was inexplicably a mime, a fairy, and the Les Miserables red flag. Why? There was also the overuse of the projected Instagram graphics and the overuse of the animation and cuteness in the projections. But other things worked well. The diversity of casting of Joseph’s brothers brought an interesting overtone and meaning to the scene where they come to Egypt, and Joseph doesn’t trust them. Could the Bible have been foreshadowing current society’s lack of trust of unknown foreigners and people different from them? I have no idea, but this is what diversity in casting can bring. (Similarly, I read about a production of Oklahoma that cast Judd as a black man, which put the relationship with Laurie in a completely different light, and would have been realistic). The Children’s Chorus made me melt with the cute of it all. The addition of the female dancers (generally portrayed as wives), added a lot of dance energy. The addition of the school choirs brought in a lot of parents to see their kids — always a good thing for the energy of a show.

The staging — and especially the costume design of Beth Glasner (FB) assisted by the wigs of Leo Quang Zeller (FB) — emphasized the cultural anachronisms in the show. In general, the traditional “biblical” style was replaced by a hip-hop street sensibility for the brothers (although Jacob remained in robes, and Joseph in a loincloth); Egypt was more “King Tut”; and the musical pastiches were area-appropriate. For some odd reason, there was writing on the Egyptian wigs that I couldn’t figure out. One other costuming / makeup comment: Cover the tats. Whenever I see real tats on an actor, it takes me out of the make-believe of their character into the reality of the actor, and I wonder what they are and what their symbolism is. That’s an unnecessary distraction.  I noticed them on the Assistant Choreographer; my wife noted them on some of the male dancers.

Similarly, the new approach to dance worked well. There was a problem in that the non-theatrical dance sensibility made the dance less part of the story, and more a separate performance aspect (especially so in the ending mega-mix). But the energy and the quality of the dance was top-notch, and the additional styles of dance made what is, admittedly, a overstretched and overstuffed and over-pastiched cantata into a dance show accessible for a modern generation. All in all, that’s a good thing. It was the best they could do given the limitations of the story.

The one change that consistently worked well was the stretching of the music to provide extended dance and the occasional reprise.

Turning to the performances, this was in general top-notch. In the lead position was Adam Hollick (FB) as Joseph and Laura Dickinson (FB) as the Narrator. My wife’s summation of Hollick: Beefcake with a voice to match. I’d have to agree (and I’m not into beefcake). This is a guy who came into school on a football scholarship (so he has the bod), then transitioned to vocal performance and opera singing before transitioning again into acting and the musical theatre world. He had one of the nicest and smoothest voices I’ve ever heard as Joseph, and he captured the emotion of the character well (well, as much as there is in this lightweight show).  Dickinson brought a powerhouse voice and movement to the Narrator — this is much more of a singing than an acting role, for as the narrator she moves the action along. But that she did, with a remarkable fluidity and presence.

Another character role that stands out is Pharaoh, normally portrayed as an Elvis-type. One wonders how much of the audience even remembers Elvis, but I digress. He was popular in the 70s when this was written. Pharaoh was portrayed by Patrick Cassidy (FB) — yes, of David Cassidy and Shirley Jones fame. Cassidy has done this show many times before (I’m guessing as Joseph), and he was clearly having fun with his role here — and that fun comes across to the audience. He was a delight to watch, had a great singing voice, and got the Elvis moves down well.

Next come Joseph’s brothers: Reuben – Marc Ginsburg (FB); Judah – Mitchell Johnson (FB); Levi – James Olivas (FB); Benjamin – Patrick Viloria (FB); Asher – Cedric Dodd (FB); Naphtali – Derek A. Lewis (FB); Simeon – at our performance, Adlai Musia (FB), but normally Neico Joy (FB); Issachar – Rodolfo Larrazolo (FB); Dan – Rile Reavis (FB); Zebulon – Zy’heem Downey (FB); and Gad – Kyron Correia (FB). Most of these become interchangeable on stage unless you can memorize faces quickly, but all had great dance moves and got the choreography down well. A few were worth singling out. James Olivas, as Levi, got to take the lead in “One More Angel”, and he did a great job with capturing the humor of the piece well. Simarly, Marc Ginsberg as Reuben got the lead in “Those Canaan Days”, nailing the French bathos well. Mitchell Johnson’s Judah got the lead in the “Benjamin Calypso” and handled the calypso/island nature of that well. Lastly, Patrick Viloria’s Benjamin just was great to watch dancing.

In terms of other named characters, two come to mind. First is Cabrillo / 5-Star Regular  David Gilchrist (FB) as both Jacob and Potiphar. Gilchrist is a reliable character actor, who did great with both characters (although Potiphar with a bit of a British accent was odd). What was neat was seeing him rocking out during the mega-mix.  Tyler Stouffer(FB) played the Baker and handled him with aplomb, but was more interesting was his mime during the “Canaan Days” number. The remaining named characters were Michael Mittman (FB)’s Butler and Naomi Pacheco (FB)’s stint as Potiphar’s wife. She also served as Assistant Choreographer, which explains her great dance.

Rounding out the cast were the various ensembles and choruses. All of the brothers sans Joseph joined the ensemble at points. Additionally, the following dancers and singers were in the adult ensemble: Julia Lester (FB), Terri Woodall (FB), Rebecca Gans (FB), Devon Davidson (FB), Haley Gilchrist (FB), Alyssa Noto (FB), Alissa Tucker (FB), Miyuki Miyagi (FB), Carolyn Lupin (FB), Julia Marley (FB), and Naomi Pacheco (FB). Looking at the photos, the following folks in the ensemble stuck in my mind from some aspect of their dance or performance: Terri Woodall, Alissa Tucker, and Julia Lester. The kids ensemble consisted of: Rhythm Pacheco, Bayley Tanenbaum, Lilly Thompson, Marissa Margolis, Collin Nelson, Madison North, Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB), Marcello Silva, Andrew Grigorian, Calista Loter, Lal Besir, Luca De La Pena, Amelia Fischer , Savannah Fischer, and Drew Rosen. Can’t speak to talent, but the kids ensemble was adorable. At times, the ensembles were joined on stage by visiting local choirs — a different one each performance. The choirs performing are MATES, Westlake Elementary, Homeschoolers of Ventura County Choir, Red Oak Elementary Choir, EARTHS Elementary Choir, Round Meadow Elementary, Mariposa School of Global Education, Sumac Elementary, Lindero Canyon Middle School, OPUSD – Brookside Elementary, Viewpoint Chorus, and Oaks Christian (Note: I believe we had Round Meadow Elementary at our performance).  Julia Lester (FB) was also the understudy for the narrator.

As always, the newly renamed 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, conducted by Dan Redfeld (FB), sounded great. The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) – Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax; Ian Dahlberg (FB) – Oboe, English Horn;  Melissa Hendrickson (FB) – Horn; Sharon Cooper (FB) – Violin I; Sally Berman (FB) – Violin II; Karen Goulding-Long (FB) – Viola; Bang Eunn Lee (FB) – Cello; Chris Kimbler (FB) – Keyboard I;  Tom Griffin (FB) – Keyboard II; Lloyd Cooper (FB) – Keyboard III; Brian LaFontaine (FB) – Acoustic & Electric Guitars I; Shane Harry (FB) – Double String and Electric Bass; Alan Peck (FB) – Set Drums; Tyler Smith (FB) – Percussion.  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC. Music direction was by Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB).

Turning to the production credits: The production was directed by Will North (FB) with choreography by Dave Scott (FB) [assisted by Naomi Pacheco (FB)]. I’ve already commented on their work. There is no credit for the set design, although the program does indicate that the sets and props were provided by 3-D Theatricals (FB). The set was supplemented with projections designed by Jonathan Infante (FB). The set was a three-level beast with spaces for the various choirs and ensembles on the side, and a top piece that could connect to the projections. The set itself was fine. The problem is the projections attempted to modernize the story, with occasional Instagram snaps related to the story, and graffiti on Jacob’s tent. I’m not sure that worked, but I’m an older audience, not the modern audience. Props were also credited to Alex Choate (FB).  The lighting and sound designs were credited to Jose Santiago (FB) and Jonathan Burke (FB), respectively. Both worked well. Other production credits:  Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; Mustang Marketing (FB), Marketing Team; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

There is one more weekend of performances for this production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Tickets are available through 5 Star Theatricals (FB) on their ticketing page; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Additionally, 5 Star posted on their FB page: “Use code TEN4JO & save 10% off rear/side orchestra and mezzanine tickets for all evening performances! (Code good through 10/22).” This is an interesting take on a well-worn pastiche. It is enjoyable and presents a lot of great dance, but the updates and juxtapositions are jarring at times and some don’t work. Still, it is worth seeing for the effort and ideas and the attempt alone.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. Thursday sees us back at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) for a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love.  The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday; on Sunday, I’m going to see a thriller penned by the fellow through whom we get our Saroya (VPAC) subscriptions, Schaeffer Nelson (FB) — Mice at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village. The weekend before Thansgiving brings This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights

Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB). The third weekend will hopefully bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thankgsiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics. We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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