Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Georgetown Palace Theatre
by Michael Meigs
With Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the Georgetown Palace Theatre demonstrates once again the blend of professional standards and excitement of community theatre that makes it the premiere venue in the greater Austin area for musical theatre.
Webber wrote this piece well before his hit Jesus Christ Superstar, for a school performance in London. The structure hints at that, for when the lights go down, cheery Patty Rowell comes on stage, beckoning, and down the aisles of the Palace come two scampering files of young persons in jeans and white t-shirts. They hug her and squat in a semi-circle in front of the curtain; the music starts, Patty smiles, gestures, and then launches into a lilting melody. We understand quickly that this is a class, probably a Sunday school class, as she and her classroom assistant Stephen Jack begin the story.
From that spare but charming beginning the story of Joseph expands.
The children file away into the wings, the curtain opens onto a simple set of platforms and a rear scrim, and the theatre begins to rock with the sprightly song "Joseph and sons." We spend the evening with a delightful retelling of the adventures of the boy with the coat of many colors, sold into Egypt as a slave by his eleven envious brothers. His ability to interpret dreams eventually brought him great power and influence as chief counselor to Pharaoh. The story comes from the end of the book of Genesis, condensed and abstracted as if for one of those Bible storybooks with big print and bright pictures. The authors wink to us a couple of times in good story-telling style. Potiphar the rich Egyptian responds to a sung reference to "chapter 37 of Genesis" with the wry comment, "But don't believe everything you read!" When Joseph is at his nadir, cast into prison and lamenting, Patty Rowell and the cast reassure him, "We've read the book . . . and you come out on top."
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat is a cantata -- almost every word is sung, and Webber has put together a happy, playful pastiche of styles. He gives us driving narrative; music hall; country lament and boot-scootin'; 1950s rock 'n' roll; peppy narrative; an "apache" number in the French gypsy style; calypso; and more. And after the story has been told, we get a driving "megamix" with reprises of all the above.
The cast fills that stage with movement, song, music and dance. Twenty-three children, a narrator, Joseph and his eleven brothers, father Jacob, a passel of wives and five lively women as the principal dancers -- director Mary Ellen Butler and two choreographers, Lisa Jones and Jessica Kelpsch, fill that scene with more energetic, witty action than you can possibly assimilate in just one evening. I was there for opening night and brought a group to see Joseph a week later, and during almost every minute of the second performance I was seeing new things.
Patty Rowell, the sprightly narrator with the lovely voice, alternates performances with Sarah Kumengi, but otherwise the show is single cast.This may not be a cast of thousands, as they used to boast for Cecil B. DeMille's epics, but it feels like it, with many of the actors doubling or even tripling roles. The Sunday school class members transform into chorus members, joining in the big numbers and at times rocking out in the side aisles next to us. Those young persons show excellent discipline and concentration throughout, and they plainly are having a good time.
Stephen Jack in the title role gives us a Joseph who's initially naive, graceful and manly. He sings with simplicity, dignity and feeling. His brothers are a fine assortment of shapes and sizes, constituting a rogue's gallery and men's chorus of singers and dancers of remarkable power.
Adam Munoz as Benjamin, the youngest, is a standout, especially as the lead in the brothers' keening lament over famine in Canaan. Reuben the "cowboy" brother played by Pete Munoz sings a woeful, lyin' story about the disappearance of Joseph, and he swaggers and spits with the best of the buckeroos. Clifford Butler, doing a reggae-style defense of the youngest brother, rocks the stage.
And of course, Blake Yelavich as Pharaoh -- the King, from a different Memphis -- grins, swivels, teases, and just tears the place up. Here's a guy who can wear that revealing Egyptian garb without a blush, someone who's in better shape than Elvis ever was and who can sing in the same style. The lyrics are a bit obscure, unless you can remember Pharaoh's dream -- seven fat cows were devoured by seven thin cows, who got no fatter, and then seven good ears of corn were devoured by seven diseased ears of corn, which did not improve. But as one happy woman friend in my group commented, "My Lord, you don't have to understand what he's singing -- just look at him go!"
Costumes provided by A Cut Above are colorful and clever, including Joseph's many-colored coat. Those five women dancers must be scrambling backstage, considering the number of their costume changes, including everything from golden tights to 60s go-go boots to lion outfits. Particularly eye-catching among them are choreographer Kelpsch, with a sexy solo number as Potiphar's wife, intent on seducing Joseph, and that non-stop tall redhead Jennifer Butler. All five principal dancers demonstrate an energy and a love for dance that simply dazzle.
The Palace's Joseph is a celebration throughout, one with a happy ending for the characters, the cast, the Palace staff, and above all, the audience. Go, enjoy. Try it, you'll like it!
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May 07 - June 06, 2010
314 S. Austin Street
Seguin, TX, 78155
information at www.georgetownpalace.com