BY SANDY STAGGS
After a string of annual Disney musical smashes, Oakbrook Preparatory officially jumpstarts the spring finale season with an oldie but heavenly goodie, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Easily the most accessible musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in their professional infancy, this handsome staging of “Joseph” is a fitting programming choice by director Dawn Rollins, who wore her own “Coat of Many Colors” at Saturday evening’s performance.
“Joseph” calls for a huge talented cast of all ages CHECK (which Oakbrook is dutifully stocked in this department), very strong voices in many styles CHECK (this musical is completely sung-through with no spoken dialogue), and it’s high-energy with mega musical numbers CHECK!
Based on the story of Joseph from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, “Joseph” is presented as a story to a group of children (who double as a winsome and robust children’s choir) and narrated by two – yes two- young ladies here (Parker Harrington and Gracie Wood), who both sparkle with passion and maternal guidance in revered songs in this show like the “Prologue,” “Jacob and Sons” and “Joseph’s Dreams.” I have never seen dual narrators but dividing the part opens the door for some unexpected sweet harmonies.
The title character is played valiantly by sophomore Marc Rivera, who gives an exotic, empathetic quality to poor Joseph, who suffers for so long before his redemption: betrayed and sold by his brothers, spending years as a slave and in prison, only to practice kindness and forgiveness by show’s end. And Rivera is a dynamite performer, nailing the show’s most well-known ballad “Any Dream Will Do,” and “Close Every Door,” having a blast throughout the myriad musical numbers which he is privy and onstage nearly the entire two hour show.
“Joseph” is musically more of a showcase for male talent – which Oakbrook shepherds and trains well – with its numerous testosterone-based novelty songs that borrow heavily from other genres. The Oakbrook fellas deliver every time from the melodic “Jacob and Sons” and “Poor, Poor Joseph” to the country western “One More Angel” (lead by Christopher Henderson), the French ballad “Those Canaan Days” (lead by Luke Womick), the Elvis-inspired “Poor, Poor Pharaoh” (sung by Lawson Page) and even island music with “Benjamin Calypso,” performed by featured actor and senior Sam Kopf, who also did the calypso as Scuttle the Crab in Oakbrook’s “The Little Mermaid.”
But that’s not too say the young ladies don’t get their time in the spotlight in multiple, multiple roles as wives, featured dancers, cheerleaders and heavy ensemble vocal stylings. And a special shout out to Leigh Marie-McCarver for her professional handling of the character of the seductress Mrs. Potiphar.
The music is directed by Rollins as well, with Spencer Nance and Sarah Browne , who conducts the large orchestra of students mingled amongst a handful of professional musicians.
As always, this Oakbrook show is lavish and beautiful with primarily one massive Egyptian pyramid themed set designed by Erin Biggar that is impressive in scale and the scenic finishing touches (and built by a team of dedicated parents), especially when illuminated by Elijah George’s Technicolor palette of stark, bold colors.
I was most impressed with Beth Ann Hartford’s costumes…and there are hundreds. From the poodle skirts, matching French berets, the western gear, the 60s mod looks, the flapper a la Egyptian styles, the hippie outfits, and those rad “Cabaret” inspired uniforms for Potiphar’s guards. Exquisite!!!!
And choreographer Jenny Howard brings matches her moves to the material with tough, synced routines that these kids have mastered, particularly in that showstopper “Go, Go, Go, Joseph.”
A couple observations: there were two (maybe three) dead spaces in between scenes that could have been shortened musically, and at times, the sheer number of actors and dancers on stage lead to some muddled pandemonium, not allowing the audience to fully appreciate the clean lines and the marvelous routines.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” continues Sunday, March 10 at 3 p.m. at Converse College’s Twichell Auditorium. Tickets are available at the door.