‘Joseph’ brightens venue at Stages

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the pioneering pop musical of the dazzlingly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber, has hit the boards of the Stages St. Louis Robert Robert G. Reim Theatre venue with an energetic and thoroughly satisfying production.

With a strong cast, excellent direction and choreography by Stephen Bourneuf and musical direction by Lisa Campbell Albert, the musical, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, retains its freshness. The more compact venue at the Reim Theatre has the advantage of lending the Stages production more faithfulness to the original conept.

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which covers the fascinating life of Jacob’s favorite son from the Book of Genesis, Chapters 37-46 in the Hebrew Bible, has a curiously quaint origin. Back in the summer of 1967, long before Andrew Lloyd Webber became world famous for such later works as Jesus Christ Superstar, The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, he was approached by Alan Doggett, head of the Music Department and teacher of his younger brother Julian, to write a “pop cantata” for the school choir of St. Paul’s Junior School to sing at its end of term spring concert.

Webber then approached his friend and Oxford classmate Tim Rice to enlist him to write the lyrics for the project. The first amateur production of a 20-minute version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was presented on the afternoon of March 1, 1968, described as a “cold winter” day. The project was so well received that second and third performances were added with new songs added, such as Potiphar for the first time.

Joseph was put on hold for some time as Webber went on to achieve worldwide success with Jesus Christ Superstar, which has some elements in common with Joseph in that both project biblical icons into the idiom of musical theater. After the success of Superstar, Joseph was developed into an album and then a show for the British stage, with its first major production at the Haymarket Theatre in Leceister. The play premiered on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on Jan. 27, 1982 for a run of 747 performances. The show continues to enjoy popularity and critical acclaim in multiple venues each year.

Heading the cast of the Stages production as Joseph is Chrisopher Kale Jones, who had appeared in the Stages production of Grease, where he met his future wife Jenna Coker Jones. He later appeared as Frankie Valli in the first national tour of Jersey Boys. Jones brings just the right balance of confident, energetic youth in the early sequences and the complexities of maturity and wisdom after Joseph’s captivity in Egypt and later rise to prominence after he interprets Pharoah’s dreams.

Jenna Coker Jones also makes a return to the Stages venue as the all-important Narrator, who must remain on stage through practically every scene, singing the whole time the unfolding story of how Joseph, as the favorite among the 12 sons of the Patriarch Jacob, is betrayed by his 11 brothers and sold into slavery, where he ends up in Egypt, purchased by a wealthy citizen named Potiphar.

Potiphar’s wife is an ultra-Cougar seductress, and when the moral, young Joseph spurns her advances, he ends up in prison on her false charges of sexual misconduct. While in prison, Joseph, whose ability to intepret his own dreams got himself in trouble with his envious brothers, helps his fellow prisoners understand their own dreams.

Later, when Pharoah is tormented by recurring dreams, Joseph comes before him and solves their meaning in a way that assures Egypt’s prosperity and gains for him promotion to being in effect second in command to the Pharoah himself. Later, when a drought hits Canaan, Joseph’s brothers come before him to grovel for help, which he grants after testing whether they had mended their ways.

Mrs. Potiphar is played to the hilt with zest, gusto and seductiveness by Lindsey Bracco. Bill Lynch is also humorous as the wealthy Potiphar, and also does good work in the important role of Jacob, managing to imbue the character with the pathos and respect that he deserves. Rye Mullis is a show-stopper with his performance of the role of Pharoah, who is transformed into The King, an Elivis clone; he manages the transition from proud, handsome Pharoah to sleek, confident Egyptian Elvis seamlessly.

The performances by those playing all of Joseph’s 11 brothers are consistently entertaining, with very clever choreography, especially during the song in which Joseph tells his brothers about his dream that one day 11 homely stalks would bow down to the one handsome stalk, the dream which pushes them over the edge of rage.

The production is also enhanced by a terrific Teen Ensemble, featuring an outstanding and highly talented group of local kids who join the professional actors and dancers in several of the major numbers and whose presence brightens up the stage.

Lou Bird’s costume design is excellent, giving the production a polished and finished look. The smaller stage at the Reim Theatre is more in keeping with the original 1967 show that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created, and which has blossomed into one of the more enduringly enjoyable and entertaining shows in their impressive portfolio. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was an excellent choice for the second production of the 22nd season of Stages St. Louis.

(Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is appearing at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 115 South Geyer Road, through Aug. 18; because of the show’s fast-selling tickets, an extra performance was added for Aug. 18. For information call 636-530-5959; 314-821-2407 or email [email protected]; www.stagesstlouis.org).