BWW Blog: The Narrator and the Amazing Technicolor Projector - Memphis Orpheum
I have a special place in my heart for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. As a child this musical introduced me to shows beyond the world of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sadly over the years I have seen multiple versions of the show where directors pushed inside jokes and actors chewed the scenery. The show began to lose the adoration that my childhood so easily bestowed upon it. I was looking forward to seeing this production at the Memphis Orpheum Tuesday night, but I also dreaded what I thought might be the nail in the coffin for me and this musical.
In the "Prologue" we see Joseph (Ace Young) grow from a little boy to a businessman in modern day. This was expressed to the audience through projections of dreams on fabric that covers the stage. These dreams were more reminiscent of drug-induced fantasies than childhood dreams, which led to some confusion. His path crosses with the Narrator (Diana DeGarmo) and the characters are suddenly transported to ancient Egypt. The stage is then filled with more traditional costuming and an ancient feel, except for the tennis shoes that were worn sporadically throughout the production. By the time we reached the classic story I could feel the nail being driven in, as my fears about this show were becoming a reality.
Throughout the show the stage is transformed to multiple locations, primarily through a fabric set and projections. I felt they were grasping at straws as things like crayons and carp floated across the stage, however when it was used to show aspects of Egypt it fully immersed us in the show. When it continued the LSD inspired dreams from the opening sequence it only succeeded in reminding the audience of the failed opening concept.
Despite the confusion at the top of the show there were some stand out moments in Act 1, including performer Brian Golub who brought a fresh energy to the stage with "One More Angel in Heaven." He walked a fine line between a musical theatre performer and a modern country star, which worked well with the shows diverse score.
Sadly, two "prisoners" who were chatting and smiling stage left, as if they were old friends catching up at a coffeehouse, overshadowed "Close Every Door" which is normally a highlight. To top it off Young's vocal performance of the number was choppy and came across more as a pop star striving for votes on Idol than genuine emotion.
Outside of a few standout moments in Act 1 most everyone seemed sluggish and lacked enthusiasm. Luckily this all turned around for the better in the second act. The show went from a struggling and weak interpretation of a classic to a show filled with honest choices and a truly inspired interpretation of the script.
DeGarmo was a breath of life throughout the show. She moved the story along with energy and a passion for the work she was doing. Her modern voice was showcased beautifully throughout the score. Some of the best moments of the show were her effortless notes being backed by an outstanding orchestra, specifically "A Pharaohs Story" that opened Act 2.
"Elvis" (Pharaoh) returning "home" to Memphis was a fun moment at the Orpheum as the audience welcomed him with thunderous applause. Ryan Williams' portrayal of Elvis was classic and he appeared thrilled to show his skills in the city of rock and roll.
"Those Canaan Days" was on point, which the audience made sure the performers knew, as they had to hold the show for applause. The choices that were made to remove berets, alcohol, and Can-Can girls from the scene provided the audience the opportunity to truly fall in love with this endearing group of misfits. By the end of the number we were rooting for them, which is vital if the audience is to feel connected to the brothers once they enter Egypt.
I have never been a fan of the "Benjamin Calypso" number, questioning the songs placement at such a crucial climax in the show. Instead of the normal abrupt transition from drama to comedy this version seamlessly interprets this emotional moment. I found myself holding my breath as Joseph prepares to wound Benjamin (Brandon Hudson) and is stopped just in time when his brother Judah (Will Mann) is moved to action before the blow. The song was so honestly portrayed that I found it to be the most moving number in the entire production. Truly brilliant.
The show had a rocky start. With a first act filled with choices that were poorly contrived and attempted solely to be different rather than further the story. Luckily the second act was filled with smart decisions and fresh takes on this classic musical. Overall this production left me remembering why I first fell in love with the show and with new hope for it's continued success in theatres across the globe. If you get the chance to catch this production at the Orpheum or while on tour please do. Despite its shortcomings the show pulled it out in the end and reminded me why Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is loved by so many including myself.