Disney’s Beauty and the Beast may claim to be the “tale as old as time” but it has nothing on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. As Tim Rice’s accessible lyrics state, this through-sung musical takes place “way, way back many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began,” and comes from us from the Book of Genesis. It is the well-known story of young Joseph, son of Israel’s founder and a platoon of sons.
Among the many musicals composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, especially the ones he wrote with librettist Tim Rice, Joseph may be biblical but it is also the most lighthearted and family friendly. If you attend the production of Joseph, now at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, your likely to have your spirits lifted, your heart warmed and your toes tapping.
Toby’s has pulled out all the stops for this Joseph, a musical the dinner theatre has presented off and on for many years, probably one of the first in the region to do so. Helmed by the theatre’s founder Toby Orenstein and co-directed (and choreographed) by Mark Minnick, this production has one aim in mind: to entertain with style and creativity and it wins on both fronts.
Beginning with costumes by Lawrence B. Munsey which straddle the ancient world with current fashions, the directors and designers have chosen a fittingly whimsical rendition of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s first collaboration. The usual in-the-round staging is enhanced by enchanting hieroglyphics and Egyptian iconography designed (along with the lighting) by David A. Hopkins that sets the stage immediately for a journey back in time.
That journey is led by the charming, singing narrator, played on press night by a familiar face to Toby’s audiences, Janine Sunday. Sunday engages the audience from her first notes to the last. But she is not the only narrator for this production. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Columbia and the 45th anniversary of Orenstein’s renowned school, the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA), this production of Joseph features a rotation of narrators, all with a special connection to the theatre or CCTA. Along with Sunday, Caroline Bowman, Coby Kay Callahan, Cathy Mundy, and MaryKate Brouillet take turns for a few weeks.
The omnipresent narrator is of course joined by Wood Van Meter in the title role. Van Meter has the stage presence and soaring voice required to make the role his own. I have heard many renditions of Joseph’s big anthems, “Close Every Door” and Any Dream Will Do,” but I’d say Van Meter’s are among the best I have encountered. Joseph must come off as humble and unassuming while possessing the gift of dream interpretation, traits that endear him to his father but not his brood of brothers; Van Meter finds that delicate balance.
After Jacob (Andrew Horn) surprises Joseph with his coat of many colors (can you name all 28 colors?), the brothers plot a little coup and leave Joseph for dead in the desert. He gets bumped around the desert and winds up with wealthy Potiphar (David Bosley-Reynolds) and his randy wife (Nia Savoy), until he finally lands in the Egyptian court of the Pharaoh, aka “the King” – a clever send-up of Elvis Presley as played with hip-shaking, lip-curling and pompadour-sporting panache by David Jennings. (Kudos to costumer Munsey for combining Pharaoh’s royal threads with the Elvis look, circa comeback special, 1968.)
Lest we not forget Jacob’s considerable progeny, Joseph’s brothers make up a sizable portion of the show’s ensemble. Only a couple of the brothers make a strong individual impression but they work mostly as an ensemble and the performers execute their work with energy, excellent musicality, and impeccable comic timing for all their scenes and songs.
closes August 27, 2017
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A handful of Jacob’s sons get a chance to shine leading musical numbers and they do not disappoint. Gregory Banks, as Levi, breaks the news to papa that Joseph is (to their knowledge) dead and there is “One More Angel in Heaven.” During the second act, years after Joseph’s “death” and a time of famine back home, Reuben – played with a Maurice Chevalier flair by Russell Sunday – sings with his forlorn brothers of “Those Canaan Days,” a showstopper for sure. Once the brothers find their way to Egypt to implore the Pharaoh’s assistant (spoiler: it’s Joseph!), Naphtali (DeCarlo Raspberry) does his Harry Belafonte turn, leading the brothers in the “Benjamin Calypso,” as they hope to save little brother Benjamin from severe punishment.
Brothers are all reunited and then a full family reunion takes place with Jacob returning to Joseph his amazing colored coat, leading to the finale affirmation “Any Dream Will Do,” probably one of my favorite Lloyd Webber compositions, here given full value by the entire company.
Ross Scott Rawlings. an unseen member of the production staff also deserves praise. Rawlings has provided new orchestrations, musical and vocal arrangements for this production. Rawlings’ work sounds magnificent, allowing the music to soar and the lyrics to shine through. He also serves as musical director for the small but mighty ensemble of players giving invaluable support to the performers onstage.
Orenstein states in her program notes Joseph is a musical that is very dear to her heart; I believe her. She and co-director Minnick have put their hearts and souls into this production, and it shows. You can see and hear for yourself, and have a tasty meal before the show. How’s that for a dream come true.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat . Lyrics by Tim Rice . Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber . Directed by Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick . Choreographed by Mark Minnick . Rotating actresses in the role of Narrator: Janine Sunday, Coby Kay Callahan, Cathy Mundy, MaryKate Brouillet, and Caroline Bowman. Also featuring Wood Van Meter, Andrew Horn, Russell Sunday, David James, Gregory Banks, DeCarlo Raspberry, Jeffrey Shankle, David Jennings, Amwar Thomas, Justin Calhoun, Brandon Bedore, Joey Ellinghouse, AJ Whittenberger, Rebecca Vanover, David Bosley-Reynolds, Nia Savoy, Heather Beck, and Rachel Kemp . New musical arrangements, orchestrations, and musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings . Set and lighting design: David A. Hopkins . Sound design: Corey Brown . Costume design: Lawrence B. Munsey . Production stage manager: Kate Wackerle . Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
Jeffrey Walker says
As the reviewer of this production, I cannot speak for Toby’s but I do believe you may have confused this local production, which adheres to the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice official version 100%, based on my knowledge, with a production in New Zealand which cut songs and re-worded some lyrics.
Toby’s performs JOSEPH in the way it was intended.
I hope this is helpful.
We have enjoyed Tobys many times. Loved your rendition of Hairspray. I am concerned about the accuracy of your Joseph play because I heard that the story was changed somewhat for political reasons. Is that true?