What separates theatre from other art forms is its integral demand for collaboration amongst artists. This collaboration becomes the solid foundation of any great theatrical production. And this is the sole greatest challenge: melding all the ideas and skills of the directors, designers, actors, and technicians into one unique and complete production.
There are twenty-five colors that make up Joseph’s dreamcoat. (And, yes, I had to Google the lyrics and count them.) And with those twenty-five colors stitched together, the coat becomes amazing and technicolor. The creation of a theatrical production is like this coat: many different elements have been quilted together with the goal to tell one story. The twenty-five colors are all present in Artistry’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” but the stitching that holds these colors, these ideas and skills, is inconsistent and distracts from the encompassing story.
(Score and lyrics, respectfully), Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a sung-through rendition of the Bible’s coat-of-many-colors story. Because Joseph is the favorite of Jacob’s twelve sons, Jacob gives Joseph a beautiful colored coat. Jealous of Joseph and their father’s favoritism, the eleven brothers sell Joseph into slavery. But word of Joseph’s prophetic gifts makes its way to Egypt’s Pharaoh, who takes him on as an advisor. Years later, when famine has left them no other option and Joseph’s brothers beg for Pharaoh’s assistance, Joseph ultimately forgives his brothers and is reunited with his family.
Artistry’s production opens with the Narrator, the golden-voiced Jennifer Grimm, emerging from the audience to tell Joseph’s story. Although a bit clunky of an opening, the message is clear: the narrator is one of us (the audience) and she is going to tell us a story of a dreamer and, in turn, encourage us to dream as well. When not thrilling the audience with her mighty and impressive voice (indeed, it is one of the highlights of the production), Ms. Grimm passively wanders in and out of the rambunctious company’s flailing limbs: seemingly wondering what to do next.
The twenty members of the company had their work cut out for them in keeping up with Michael Matthew Ferrell (Director/Choreographer) and Kirsten Iiams’ (Associate Director/Choreographer) direction and movement. The first half of act one was chaotic and I had a difficult time focusing on Joseph and the, albeit simple, story. Athletic and energetic, Joseph’s eleven brothers successfully executed choreography that sometimes appeared to be movement for the sake of movement. It wasn’t until Joseph was sold to Potiphar midway through Act One that things calmed down and I could delineate the plot.
Several members of the company had the opportunity to stand out, despite the show being largely ensemble driven. Dance Captain Elly Stahlke was one such performer and her featured moments were sincere pleasures to watch. Understated and highly effective, Dan Piering’s Benjamin brought the well-needed heart to the production. And Brandon A. Jackson, as Pharaoh, could SING and drew rousing cheers from the audience.
It was very clear listening to the show that the cast, under the musical direction of Denise Prosek, were all gifted vocalists. Tim Rice’s lyrics, however, were often lost on me as I couldn’t understand what the actors were singing. The sound mixing in both acts started off a bit muddy and then thankfully cleared up as they progressed.
Jeff Brown’s lighting design was very fun, but despite making great use of the set’s lighting features, there were many moments where I simply couldn’t see the actor’s faces. Borrowed from Duluth Playhouse’s production, the costumes were easily one of the most distracting elements of the production. Bold and striking, the costumes, particularly of the brothers, felt like they would be better suited for a high-fashion runway show. Curtis Phillips’ set thankfully settled for efficiency and functionality and didn’t attempt to compete with the choreography, lighting, or costumes.
Overshadowed by many elements of the production, John Jamison’s timid Joseph didn’t get a chance to shine until near the end of Act One. The wait was well worth it and Mr. Jamison’s ballad, “Close Every Door” was my favorite number of the afternoon. A close second, which unexpectedly drew a tear, was the forgiving embrace between Joseph and Benjamin near the conclusion of Act Two.
Even though I didn’t leap to my feet at the end of the Sunday matinee performance (unlike the attending members of the Red Hat Society and the other white-haired and bald-headed ticket holders who were clearly impressed with Artistry's production,) I still enjoyed myself. The story of the coat of many colors is familiar and reinforces the value of forgiveness and the danger of jealousy. The songs are more than hummable (just try and get “Go Go Go Joseph” out of your head). And (although sometimes misplaced and distracting), there is plenty to look at. Not to mention that there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
As I watched theatre’s largest demographic dance out of the theatre to Jason Hansen’s rocking seven piece orchestra, I was disappointed I didn’t see more grandchildren in the audience. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is short (only an hour and a half--with intermission!) and family friendly. Out of all the different shows available to families of all ages in the Twin Cities, this is one that is easily accessible and shouldn’t be overlooked.
There were clearly a lot of ideas for this production of “Joseph…” and most of them were pulled together with more-or-less success. Too often, the show stumbled because it forgot to focus on the core story. No one knows the pattern for a perfect production, but keeping a constant narrative thread through each theatrical endeavor is of utmost importance. And although the stitching of this production is inconsistent, it still holds itself together and manages to get the job done with much pizzazz.