Joseph Cast Tickles Stage West Audiences (White and) Pink (and Orange and Blue)

liam tobin, as joseph, with his band of brothers
(and his snazzy coat)
Before theatre producers invented Jukebox musicals, the mega-musical was the Broadway phenomenon that used to make me cringe. Not necessarily each mega-musical individually, as some of them have more than warranted their place in theatre history, but the idea of mixing spectacle with an assortment of other sure-fire ingredients on the quest for the biggest financial success was never something that conformed to my understanding of what the theatre was. It always made me so disheartened when I encountered people who thought that an “evening at the theatre” meant either Hamlet or Cats. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which plays now until February 14th, 2011 at Stage West Dinner Theatre in Mississauga is one such mega-musical, and Stage West is the perfect venue for it.
There is a lovely theatre space at Stage West, one that has great technical ability for lights, and obviously a generous budget for costumes and props, as well as a delicious buffet, so that you can go for a fun, theatrical outing and mix good food and company with a well executed musical romp which features its own sort of buffet of everything, including a singing donkey. It helps that the cast is really topnotch. One look in the programme and a Toronto musical theatre aficionado might say to their date, “Oh wow! So THIS is where everyone is!”
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a sung-through musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It opened on Broadway in January 1982 where it ran for 749 performances. The show hit its height of fame when Donny Osmond played the title character, first in Toronto in 1992, and then went on to tour North America and later reprised his role on videocassette in 1999. The story is of biblical origins, telling the “Coat of Many Colors” story of Jacob and his twelve sons and how his favourite son, Joseph, is cast out of the family by his jealous brothers and eventually rises to fame in Egypt, through his gift of interpreting dreams. The story is a simple one, told to us with the help of a narrator and Lloyd Webber and Rice playfully give each of the supporting players a different musical genre to sing in, which makes absolutely no sense logically and follows no clear intellectual concept, but provides the cast with the opportunity to sing and dance in an array of different, jubilant styles and for everyone to have a rollicking good time. With vivid choreography, as is the case with Mike Jackson’s at Stage West, it works.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is fun, broadly melodic and I guarantee you will walk out of the theatre humming the tunes. There are some real gems in this score as well, “Pharaoh’s Story,” has a sweet and lovely musical quality to it and “Grovel, Grovel,” especially when sung with gorgeous voices in harmony, is really a tight and electric piece of work. That said, in another song Tim Rice rhymes “farmers” with “pyjamas” for which I think there is no excuse!
Our narrator at Stage West is Janna Polzin, harkening us all back to 1982 with her attire, which I think suits this Narrator perfectly. Polzin’s gorgeous voice rings out with clarity and sparkle and she is very adept at infusing the dramatic moments with great, pure emotion as well as keeping very clear diction even when the music accelerates quickly. I appreciated also that Polzin sings most of the songs in her lovely soprano voice, rather than belting everything, which I thought suited this show nicely. Liam Tobin plays Joseph, who is a little cocky, but jovially so, just enough to annoy his brothers, but to keep himself endeared in the hearts of the audience. His voice is just as beautiful as Polzin’s and soars richly over the entire theatre like creamy caramel during “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door to Me.” Shawn Wright has hysterical physicality as the ancient and decrepit Jacob. He is more of a cartoon than anything else, but needs to be to insure that the tragic and serious aspects of the show (and they are there) never threaten to become too real and dampen the spirits of our merry little musical. Wright also makes a glorious appearance as Potiphar, a dapper dandy who looked like he may have been Bunburying far before Oscar Wilde. Mike Lomenda plays (Country and Western) Reuben and sings “One More Angel in Heaven” with delicious insincerity. Cory O’Brien is even more absurd as (the French) Simeon in “Those Canaan Days,” which has every single laugh possible craftily milked from it. It also features a breathtaking apache dance which is worth the price of admission on its own. Jamaican brother, Judah, is played by Marcus Nance, and it is delightful to listen to Nance use his dreamy, lush baritone voice for a Calypso. Sean C. Robertson, as the youngest son, Benjamin, adds a bit of sincerity into the mix, albeit silently, during “Benjamin Calypso” when his sheepish, terrified reaction adds some real poignancy to the end of the show.
Mike Jackson tears down the house with his performance as the Pharaoh (he also plays Gad in the most economical casting of this show I’ve ever encountered, which means he barely leaves the stage). Pharaoh’s gimmick is Lloyd Webber and Rice’s most contrived and the one that usually stops the show. He sings all his songs as Elvis and continually encores his performance, milking The King for every hip wiggling, flirtatious Presley moment until he has the entire audience wrapped around his little finger. Jackson has nailed his impersonation, his demeanour and his vocal prowess are pitch perfect, although as an occupational hazard, with a perfect Elvis impression also comes unclear diction, but I may have been the only one in the theatre to notice.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat also could be the most economically responsible musical to see in these precarious times because not only do you get a good meal included in the ticket price, but after the show ends, you are treated to it all over again, in the aerobics remix rendition, which has infectious dancing and highlights all the most memorable of the musical moments.
In all seriousness, however, I think that this musical is one that is only worth seeing if the cast and the choreography are exuberant and proficient enough that you forget to focus on where the show has holes and get swept up instead in the fun and the joy and the magic of it. This production at Stage West has that, so if a fun musical extravaganza is what you’re after, I can earnestly tell you to go, go, go (see) Joseph.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays until February 14th, 2011 at Stage West (5400 Dixie Rd., Mississauga). For more information or to book your tickets please call 905-238-0042 or go online to http://www.stagewest.com/theatre_entertainment.asp.

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