Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

celebrating 45 years at the Chanhassen
(can you name the actor who appears
three times, and the actor currently
starring in a Broadway musical?)
On last week's episode of A Prairie Home Companion from Town Hall in New York City, Garrison Keillor said a good musical can "pick you up and throw you up in the air." The Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is just such a show. While I was a little disappointed that they chose to do this show for the third time in the last seven years, I can see why they picked this one to repeat. In addition to being a big commercial success for them, it's a fun, light, happy show - just what you want to see in the summertime (that is hopefully coming). With a super high energy cast, great performances in lead and featured roles, fantastically performed music, and a colorful set and costumes, it's fun for all ages. You will leave the theater feeling a little lighter. And hopefully the success of this five-month run will give them the freedom to choose something a little bit risky and interesting for their next show.

Written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber in the late 1960s, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is based on the biblical story of Joseph, youngest and favored son of Jacob.  He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but because of his talent for reading dreams, he rose to power as the Pharaoh's second in command.  He led the country through bounty and famine, and forgave his brothers when they unknowingly came to him for help. In other words, it's just a fun romp about slavery and famine. This is an entirely sung-through musical, with no spoken dialogue. It's pretty intense musically, and the almost thirty-person cast and nine-piece onstage orchestra (under the musical direction of Andrew Cooke) sounds full and fantastic.

Some highlights of the show:
  • The show may be named after Joseph, but the main character is nameless. Jodi Carmeli reprises her role as the Narrator and is completely comfortable in the role, vocally and from a character standpoint. She carries the show and is a wonderful friendly guide for the audience (and the two lucky children picked to join the actors on stage*) as she leads us through the story with a winking, knowing look (you'll be OK Joseph, we've been outside and seen the marquee).
  • In a completely different role from the last time I saw him (Theater Latte Da's Aida), Jared Oxborough is a delightful Joseph - childlike and almost goofy (my friend compared him to Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). His voice sounds fantastic as always. "Close Every Door" is the one somber moment in the show, a bit of a tonal disconnect with the rest of the show, which is almost giddy. This is an angsty song, but there's zero angst in this show, so it doesn't quite fit. Still, it's a nice vocal moment for Jared.
the Pharaoh (Keith Rice) with his many admirers
(photo by Rick Spaulding)
  • Keith Rice may have let his hair go gray, but he's still got it! He steals the show as the Elvis-like Pharaoh, making the women faint by flexing his jewel-nippled pecs, doing the splits, thrusting his hips, curling his lip, and singing in that great baritone voice of his. He really hams it up in the best way.
  • Joseph's eleven brothers sing in full and beautiful harmony in a variety of styles - the twangy "One More Angel in Heaven," the mock-mournful French "Those Canaan Days," and the tropical "Benjamin Calypso." In the latter song, the brothers are pleading for mercy for Benjamin (Tyler Michaels, with his usual expressive physicality), who has been wrongly accused of stealing. As Benjamin tries to escape the accusation, Tyler non-chalantly whistles "Bye Bye Birdie," a nice nod to the last show at the Chan, in which he also appeared.
  • The choreography by Tamara Kangas Erickson is fun and fast, and very ably performed by the energetic young ensemble. Julianne Mundale, one of the best dancers to ever grace the Chanhassen stage, gets her fantastic dance scene (in which I swear she almost kicks herself in the face).
  • In a show with the phrase "technicolor dreamcoat" in the title, you expect color. And costume designer Rich Hamson delivers. The coat is indeed technicolor, and everyone from the Egyptian slaves to the brothers to Joseph in his sparkly gold loincloth are well-clad (almost making one forgive the bad wigs and fake beards). The set (by Nayna Ramey) is dominated by huge letters on rollers spelling out "JOSEPH" that are cleverly used as various set pieces.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a safe choice for the Chanhassen, but they really deliver. Director Michael Brindisi says in a note in the playbill, "I think we'll just do it and have fun." Light, fun, happy, and highly entertaining - sometimes that's all you need from a musical. The show continues through August so you have plenty of time to make your way out to the Southwest suburbs and check it out. (I only hope it's not snowing when you see it, like it was when I did.)

Joseph (Jared Oxborough) with his pleading brothers
(photo by Rick Spaulding)

*If you have a little one with a yen for the theatrical, you can enter them into a drawing before the show in the lobby. Two lucky kids are chosen each night to join the cast on stage and take part in the show. You might also want to consider the Chanhassen's summer musical theater camps.