JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT theatre review

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Artist Series and the Nathan H. Wilson Center for the Arts opened its annual summer high school musical July 30th, with the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber favorite, family-friendly musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Performances will continue through next weekend, with evening performances on August 6 and 7 at 8 pm, and a 2 pm matinee on August 8. You can order tickets by phone at (904) 646-2222 or 632-3373 or on-line at www.artistseriesjax.org. All shows are at the Wilson Center on the South Campus of FSCJ on Beach Blvd. Take it from us; there is not a bad seat in the house anywhere in the marvelous Wilson Center.
The musical is based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his eleven brothers. When his father Jacob gives a beautiful multi-colored coat to the favored Joseph, he is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. In Egypt, his master Potiphar throws Joseph into prison when he thinks the handsome young man is making advances toward his alluring wife. Joseph, using his dream interpretation skills, makes his way from prison to Pharaoh’s palace and gains a position of great power. Meanwhile his brothers are experiencing famine and travel to Egypt for food. Joseph feeds them, then frames the youngest brother Benjamin as a thief, accusing him of trying to steal a gold cup; the brothers defend him and Joseph and his siblings become friends again and family peace is restored.
Even if you have seen this show before, you won’t want to miss this unique version, which is very upbeat and like a Las Vegas style show, with lots of dancing and an incredible light show as well.
If you are going to make your musical theater directorial debut, you could not take on a greater challenge than this and Artistic Director Kristin Livingston has done a marvelous job with the huge cast of 50 high school students, and an additional 25 who are working in the technical aspects of the show. Ms. Livingston has an excellent background for this production, having been the assistant director for the two previous summer shows. Johnny Pettigrew, who usually designs the sets, moved over to design the incredible lighting, which is spectacular, using dozens and dozens of lights in every color in the rainbow. Jacksonville University graduate, Jay Deen debuts as Scene Designer/Lead Artist. Jay is in the Master’s Theatre Design program at the University of Memphis. His sets evoke the grandeur of Egypt, with tall columns filled with hieroglyphics, and palaces built of stone, as well as the dry dusty desert setting of Jacob’s home, which morphs into several other settings with the aid of a large backdrop and setpieces.
Beth Harvey, Managing Producer, Program Director, and founder of this summer treat, knows when she has a good thing going. Scott Gregg is Musical Director for the fifth year, while David Paul Kidder is the Choreographer for the second year, with dance sequences even more exciting than last year’s Beauty and the Beast.
The Costume Crew, Camala Pitts and Dorinda Guiles, do their usual magic with the many costumes required. For example, the brothers wear long robes with simple jackets, each a different color. Lead Dancers are given multiple costume changes, ranging from flapper looks (black bobbed wigs, white sleeveless tops and shorts) to psychedelic (shiny white boots, with clothing in neon colors and wigs to match) When Pharaoh gets a metallic gold jumpsuit, the ensemble dancers appear in blue and gold. Allison Steadman created the dazzling, magnificent coat for Joseph as well as Jacob’s colorful tent.
One of the most demanding staff positions for the show is that of the Stage Manager who has to move the setpieces and the 50 performers on and off the stage with precision and Ashley Weldon and her assistants deserve kudos for a job well done.
The protagonists were well-cast, and backed by a very talented supporting cast. If you are familiar with the show, you know there is a singing Narrator. This production has six narrators, with two at each performance. Ameila Strickland and Oivia Churnyshev performed the night we went and did so in excellent voice with lots of energy.
Austen Weitzel, a recent Stanton graduate, was wonderful as he portrayed a very mature looking Joseph in fine voice. Mr. Weitzel, who is going to Baltimore in the fall to study sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, showed some of his creative puppetry in this show. He made the three adorable sheep that scampered across the stage and got the first big laugh of the night. In addition, he created the tall stuffed camel used in the show. You can, by the way, get up close and personal with the camel, which grazes in the lobby right after each performance and is available for photo opportunities.
Alex Hadden has a rich strong voice as the father Jacob, and you will be hearing and seeing him often as he enters the Jacksonville University Theatre Program this fall.
Christopher Valade appears in an eye popping purple suit as the ruler Potiphar, who puts Joseph in jail and changes the course of his life.
The show stopping number in every production we have ever seen of Joseph is Pharaoh’s impersonation of Elvis Presley. Nick Sacks’ handsome looks, marvelous voice and mobile hips make him a first-class Pharaoh! Mr. Sacks, a student at DASOTA, performs in a lot of community theatre as well and will be appearing as Romeo in Theatre Jacksonville’s production of Romeo and Juliet in September.
The Brothers were great comedians, and a wonderful dance team and musical ensemble as well. The audience especially appreciated them in “One More Angel”, “Canaan Days” and “Benjamin Calypso”. They included: Douglas Chappelle, Alexander Zane Farabee, Michael Single, Willie Beaton III, Will Bethmann, Jeremy Ritcher, Brandon Pack, Will Gruber, Joshua Matos, Joseph Sykes-Burns and Michael Mayo. Featured supporting roles included Christian Nyman as the Butler, Bradley Betros as the Baker and Lisa Kidder as Mrs. Potiphar.
Among our favorite performers were the Lead Dancers. These gorgeous ladies, Alyssa Higginbotham, Lisa Kidder, Madi Mack, Mary Polidan, and Amanda Severson, were among the hardest working members of the cast. They danced up a storm, looking like they had been cast in Las Vegas, in a variety of very attractive outfits. You are going to love them.
The Wives of the Brothers were played by Shala Brewer, Rachel Clarke, Amanda Gomer, Ilana Gould, Sara Kitska, Sadie La Manna, Kenya Lipplett, Hannah Morgan, Lynde Schmidt, Morgan Wendland, and Hannah Winkler.
The Ensemble Girls , who played various roles included: Christine Dorsey, Brooke Lynne Fontanez, Abbie Garcia, Cassie Goulet, Becky Haltiwanger, Cait May and Caroline Yazdiya. The Ensemble Boys/Ishmaelites were played by Malachi Hardy, Michael Hardy, and Dylan Karpf.
Twenty-two performers from local community theatres performed as a guest chorus, singing before Act I and Act II from box seats high above the stage on the left and right.
The High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience continues to grow, with students from almost every school in this area represented. Tickets are a real bargain considering the truly professional quality of the productions ($20.00 for adults, $15.00 for seniors, and $12.00 for children). If you can attend one of the final performances you will be well rewarded. And put a note on your calendar to make sure you get to next summer’s production.
The Chamber of Commerce certainly missed the chance to publicize our city as a summer musical theatre destination. Look at the facts. In June and July, productions in our area included: Godspell at Orange Park Community Theatre, Nunsense at Theatre Jacksonville, Rocky Horror Show at Limelight Theatre, Parade at Players by the Sea and Cinderella at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre. Next summer is shaping up to be just as impressive here in North Florida.

About FOLIO