Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Beck Center)

‘JOSEPH’ pleases audience at Beck

Way, way back, many years ago, Beck Center did a production of ‘JOSEPH AND HIS AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT’ starring Rob Gibb. The production was one of the script’s first amateur mountings. It was outstanding. Since then I’ve seen many, many productions of the show, and the Gibb as Joseph version is still one of the very best.

If you have been in lunar orbit and haven’t seen or heard about the musical, it is a light version of the biblical story of Jacob and his sons “many centuries ago.” Joseph, Jacob’s favorite, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, becomes the pride-and-joy of the Pharaoh, and is reunited with his brothers when they come to Egypt during a famine. It is filled with all sorts of musical treats ranging from western to calypso, to laments, to ballads and includes such great songs as “Any Dream Will Do,” “Poor, Poor Joseph,” “Close Every Door,” and “Go Go Joseph.”

The script for ‘Joseph’ has an unusual history. It was originally conceived by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber to be a short school skit. Eventually it grew into a series of songs that were sung as a concert. It was never intended to be a staged musical. In fact, there is no actual script, just a series of songs. There are no spoken lines and the authors have given no directions for its staging. Because of this, every staging of the play has a personality all its own.

About every five years Beck Center, knowing that the show will draw new and return audiences stages ‘JOSEPH.’ The last two productions have been directed by Kevin Joseph Kelly. Beck’s present production, lacks some of the interpretative creativity found in other stagings. Kelly’s concept for the show centers on a school group’s tour of a museum in which a tableau of the Joseph story comes to life. It was a clever way of incorporating lots of young children into the cast. Unfortunately, the words sung by the narrator at the start of the show don’t really parallel to this interpretation. The same problem appears almost throughout the show. Kelly doesn’t always pay careful attention to studying song lyrics. For instance, in one segment there are lyrics which relate that when the Pharaoh told a joke the listeners chortled for days. There is no one on stage to mime this concept. This seems like a minor issue, but over and over McLaughlin missed opportunities for delightful reactions. Creative staging of Joseph’s trek to Israel, getting auctioned off, and even Jacob buying Joseph’s magnificent coat are all overlooked. Kelly also never gets us back into the museum concept at the end.

Does this mean this is a bad show? No. The audience reaction was extremely positive. And Kelley had a secret weapon going for him in the person of Martin Cespedes, the choreographer. Cespedes’ work was wonderful. He created a coherent ensemble out of a cast ranging from those aged 5 on up. Many of the cast were obviously not dancers, but under Cespedes’ creative touch, they moved with youthful enthusiasm and carried it off well. Using hand movements and repetitive dance steps, Cespedes was able to create what looked like complicated variations to fit the mood of each change in musical style. Very impressive!!!

The cast was good. Sandra Emerick as the narrator displayed a big voice. Pierre-Jacques Brault, though he lacked the youthful boyishness of Joseph, has strong stage presence and a good singing voice. When Max Kantor as the Young Joseph opened his mouth to sing, many were surprised by the youth’s fine deep and resonant voice. Curtis L. Young did a wonderful Elvis interpretation, though he really milked the encore to “Song of the King.” The brothers varied in their abilities. Outstanding was Sean Szaller, who belted out a mean version of “Benjamin Calypso.”

Don’t get up to leave when you think the show is over and the curtain call starts. The strongest part of the production, besides the choreography was in the “Super Finale.” The audience was on its feet clapping and dancing.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck Center’s ‘JOSEPH’ will delight audiences of all ages. This is a chance to take young kids to see a wholesome show filled with wonderful singing and dancing. By the way, when THE LION KING was in town I had my grandsons, Alex (8) and Noah (6 1/2) review it. The reactions were so positive that they will be doing a review of ‘JOSEPH’ later this month.

‘JOSEPH’ runs through January 4 at the Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets, call 216-521-2540 or go on line to