BY SANDY STAGGS
Greenville Little Theatre mines the Book of Genesis Andrew Lloyd Webber-style in its high-spirited and sparkling revival of “Joseph’ and the amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for the company’s 93rd Season opening over the weekend.
An audience favorite that’s both family-friendly fare and challenging for its cast, “Joseph,” with lyrics by Time Rice, is indeed an amazing feat of theatrical magic that mirrors the ancient world it re-creates. From the pristine Egyptian pyramid motif with dual chambers (by Suzanne McCalla) adorned with classic period paintings (Kim Granner) anchoring the sidestages to the massive fly-in golden and cobalt-blue death mask with roving eyes, and pyramid-shaped grids lighting bogos (Cory Granner), “Joseph” is majestic but simple in scope, and relies on its greatest resource – human labor.
Whereas, the Pharaoh’s had thousands of slaves toiling on the Great Pyramid, “Joseph” has an impeccable, inspired coterie of 29 men and women that do the figurative heavy lifting.
GLT superstar Mary Evan Giles is our devoted Narrator, who through song delivers the exposition from the Bible and lures us into the mythology of Joseph. While not the most glamorous part, the Narrator is arguably a more taxing role, at least vocally perhaps than even our hero. In a pitch perfect, flawless performance, Giles has never sounded better.
As an active narrator who grounds the story in reality and weaves in and out the action, Giles draws us in with the “Prologue,” climbs a couple of octaves in the 1970s-style rock ditty “Jacob and Sons/Joseph’s Coat” and adds gravitas in her jazzy voice for “Poor Poor Joseph.”
Joseph is played by Anderson University student Griffin Lewis in his GLT leading man debut. And what a talent to behold. With a dreamy voice and beaming with vitality, Lewis gives a robust showing as the young lad destined for greatness, no matter what color he is wearing. From his sweet pop crooning of “Any Dream Will Do” to the his depth and tortured emotion in the show’s most sorrowful number “Close Every Door,” Lewis rises to the challenge with aplomb.
There is no need for a Bible lesson, but I will recap the basic plot in case it has been a while. Joseph, the dreamer is the favorite son of Jacob (Rick Connor), is given a beautiful flashy and titular coat of many colors (created here by GLT’s marvelous designer Thomas Brooks). His 11 jealous brothers sell him as a slave and tell Jacob that he has been killed, marring the coat with goat’s blood. Oh the goat. The poor goat. WOW! No spoilers here, but it ain’t pretty.
Joseph eventually lands a gig as lead servant in the house of Potiphar (Aaron Pennington) in the burlesque sequence “Potiphar” until he is jailed for allegedly coming on to Potiphar’s seductress of a wife (Jamie Ann Walters).
But Joseph has the gift of prophesy and God-given destiny and ultimately wins the favor of the Pharaoh as his number two, which puts him in a position of retribution against his groveling brothers who, not recognizing their young sibling, beg him for food during the great famine. But this is a morality play, so the brothers are all forgiven.
And what makes “Joseph” such a staple of community theatre is the Webber/Rice amalgam of musical styles and the anachronistic score and costumes. The entire tale is presented as an entertaining dream that drifts in and out of history but never subjugates the story.
This mix of musical styles ranges from the country swing “One More Angel in Heaven” (Craig Smith on lead) featuring a modern cookout and grill in the desert with hoedown moves styled by choreographer and director Kimberlee Ferreira to John Garrison pouncing on the Caribbean rhythms in “Benjamin Calypso.”
Connor’s other role (“Thank you very much”) as the engaging Elvis-impersonating Pharaoh in “Song of the King,” is a mishmash of Elvis riffs and baritone machismo (“Don’t Be Cruel” and “All Shook Up”). Connor is, of course, dazzling and gung ho in a persona he has portrayed previously in rock shows in a bedazzled jumpsuit.
But “Raise your berets” to Carter Allen and the electrifying male ensemble in the finest scene in “Joseph.” Rowdy, vocally supreme and gushing with testosterone and headiness, this chorus languishes in a French café reminiscing on “Those Canaan Days,” times of prosperity that have ceded since their heinous treatment of Joseph. Conjuring the agony of French standards like “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” “Those Canaan Days” also has a jaw-dropping spoon choreography sequence, a tango score and possibly the longest sustained note in GLT history. YES!
The voices in “Joseph,” under the direction of maestro Tim St. Clair, II are crisply sublime and professional. Even the music tracks are first-rate.
The choreography is constant, varied, frenetic and delightfully synced in its execution by this cast. Ferreira, a rare talent in the Upstate, once again demonstrates the power and unifying, cohesive vision that a choreographer can have as the stage director. Brava, Ms. Ferreira!
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” continues through Sept. 30 at Greenville Little Theatre, 444 College St. in Greenville. Call the Box Office at (864) 233-6238 or visit http://www.greenvillelittletheatre.org.