Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

JosephaTDCTheatre By The Sea continues celebrating its 85th anniversary with 50-year-old Webber/Rice classic, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a show that owner/producer Bill Hanney describes as a “rousing, rollicking rock opera.” Rock? Well, let’s just say you are treated to a variety of styles in this musical with little dialogue, save for the Narrator’s parts, angelically delivered by Marie Eife. Says Hanney: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was so well received when we produced it at North Shore Music Theatre, I thought, since it hadn’t been done at Theatre By The Sea in nearly two decades, it was about time we bring it back.” He describes the show as “energetic and exhilarating… the perfect family entertainment!”

The sights! The sounds!  A cast of young actors dances down the aisle toward the stage and swallows it whole. It’s a fun feast for the eyes, reminiscent of a one-ring circus. There is so much going on, with each fleeting second, the eye tries to decide where to focus next within a veritable popcorn machine of activity. Lights, by Jose Santiago, include large Christmas-y bulbs in primary colors above the audience seating area. This not only gives a festive, psychedelic feel to the show, but adds dimension beyond the stage.

You can thank director/choreographer Richard Sabellico and associate director/choreographer Aldopho Blaire for the precision synchronicity of the cast, which can only come from persistent rehearsals. The energy flow here is unbelievable from start to finish. There is a bit of a lull after the intermission, then a sort of physical crescendo happens that brings you right back to the exhilarating liveliness.

According to Sabellico, this story is told by a traveling troupe of beleaguered performers touring the country in 1967, Jacob and Sons Traveling Salvation Show. “As the Overture begins,” Sabellico explains, “the actors enter the theater and start loading in the show, setting the props, hoisting the scenery and readying the stage for the performance. Their costumes (by designer David Costa-Cabral) are makeshift, catch as catch can garments — whatever could be bought, borrowed or stolen. They may not look the best, but they serve the purpose and Jacob’s budget.” Sabellico goes on to explain, “The Salvation Troupe encourages its audience to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. We are asking the same thing of our TBTS audience.”

You may recognize the biblical story of Joseph (Luke Steinhauser) as told by the Narrator (Marie Eife). The patriarch of this circus is seasoned veteran Tom Gleadow, whose lines are delivered with comedic skill as Joseph’s father, Jacob, and as two additional comic characters, Potiphar and Baker. Jacob and his 12 sons are introduced, and we learn that the brothers are jealous of Joseph for his coat of many colors — a not-so-subtle reminder that he is Daddy’s favorite. Joseph’s dreams foreshadow his destiny to rule over them. When their attempts to off Joseph fail, they instead sell him as a slave to some passing Ishmaelites, who take him to Egypt. They lead Jacob to believe that Joseph has been killed, showing his ravaged coat smeared with (goat) blood as proof. In Egypt, Joseph becomes the slave of Egyptian millionaire Potiphar, rising through the ranks of slaves and servants until he is running Potiphar’s household, but suspected advances on Potiphar’s wife (Julia Feeley) land Joseph in jail. It is here where Joseph, no stranger to nightly visions, helps two inmates interpret their dreams. The Baker is to be executed, but the Butler (Gerard Lanzerotti) will return to servitude. The remaining prisoners encourage Joseph to chase his dreams.

The freed Butler — who’s got the moves like Elvis — tells the Pharaoh (Michael Williams) of Joseph and his dream-interpretation skills. Joseph not only correctly prophesizes, he oversees the famine preparations and soon becomes the second-most powerful man in Egypt. Famished back home, Joseph’s brothers express regret at selling their brother and deceiving their father as they travel to Egypt in search of food. It is here where the unrecognized Joseph feeds them at a table for 12, much like the apostles at the Last Supper, and we hear each cast member sing a short phrase. While each has a trained voice, the heavenly sound of Levi (Bryan Dougherty) is cotton candy to the ears.

Joseph lovingly gives them sacks of food, but plants a golden cup in the sack of his youngest brother, Benjamin (Marty Lauter). When the brothers go to leave, Joseph stops them, inquiring about the “stolen” cup. Each brother empties his sack, and Joseph accuses Benjamin of robbery. The other brothers implore Joseph to take them prisoner and set Benjamin free. It is within this scene another actor stands out – Elijah Emmit Curry portrays Naphtali, complete with dreadlocks, and a calypso tone overtakes the stage. His deep, soulful voice is one you could listen to all day. Now seeing his brothers contrite, Joseph reveals himself and sends for Jacob. After a happy reunion, Joseph dons his dreamcoat once more for a joyous conclusion.

You can’t help but notice Joseph using sign language during the dream sequences. “The sign language was Richard’s (Sabellico, director/choreographer) idea. It is not a part of the original script,” says Luke Steinhauser. “Though I’m not entirely sure (of) Richard’s intent with it, in my opinion, Joseph’s translation of dreams transcends normal speech, or, in this case, song. The magnitude of the act is otherworldly or divine and by both signing and singing, I’m speaking in two languages at the same time.” He goes on to say, “I haven’t used sign language before! But I find the physicality of it with what I’m saying to be magical and inspiring.”

Directors tend to put their own special stamp on their productions, and Steinhauser wasn’t too far off the mark with his assumption. Says Sabellico, “I decided to use sign language after seeing a college showcase where a young deaf actor signed his performance. I was so moved by it and felt it to be a very spiritual demonstration of the emotion of the piece. I began to think how Joseph’s journey involves a spiritual awakening for him and eventually for his brothers. I listened to the music and envisioned what it would be like for an audience to watch the character sign as he sang. Initially, I only was going to use it for the final song, but then got the idea that when he explains his dreams to his brothers, he also signs them, an action which connects him more deeply to the experience and hopefully connects the audience on a different level as well. So, each time he explains a dream, he signs it. As soon as I watched the first run through, I knew I had made the right decision. That’s when I got the idea of Joseph teaching the whole cast to sign to signify the completion of the journey.”

Sabellico further explains that he sees the whole piece as a spiritual journey, “a return connection with God, which, I’m sad to say, many people lose along the way in life. I am hoping the audience senses what I am trying to do and they leave the theater a bit more connected to their spirituality than when they came in.”

Bill Hanney’s Theatre By the Sea presents Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through August 12. 364 Cards Pond Rd., Wakefield, RI 02879. Email: boxoffice.tbts@gmail.com or call 866-811-4111 / 401-782-8587 or visit http://www.theatrebythesea.com/joseph for tickets.

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