BWW Review: New Leading Lady Narrates An Amazing Technicolor JOSEPH At Toby's In Columbia
At Toby's on opening night of their production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, I was fortunate enough to be present for a happy, campy production, with the lovely lead vocals of once and future Broadway star Caroline Bowman. In celebration of Columbia's 50th year, Artistic Director Toby Orenstein rotates one powerhouse leading lady per decade into the well-written Narrator role. The entire review of that performance is here:
Why review the show a second time? Short answer: cast change. Janine Sunday in the Narrator part through July 9th brings a warm, nurturing energy to the role. The cast has settled in and is clearly having a wonderful time. Wise audience members who like theatre that doesn't take itself too seriously would do well to go have a wonderful time with them. Longer answer: there's more stuff that I want to say about this show, and I have an excuse. So there.
Toby's Dinner Theatre is located just off Route 29 in Columbia, and worth braving rush-hour traffic. The venue has plenty of easy, free parking, welcomes each guest warmly, feeds them a nice variety of buffet items and offers souvenir glasses with their specialty cocktails. Perennial host Robert Biedermann makes special mention of birthdays, anniversaries and group outings in the cadence time between dinner and show, while the wait staff/actors switch to Performance mode. Dinner tables are terraced all around a central staging area, ensuring good views from every seat. If you're interested in seeing the buffet selection beforehand, just visit http://tobysdinnertheatre.com/about-us/whats-on-the-menu/.
I have always felt favorably about JOSEPH. The songs are catchy and singable, with an occasional extremely clever lyric. This show is a very early work of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber team, which created also JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA. JOSEPH has two wonderful features that distinguish it from Andrew Lloyd Webber's later works: merriment and a refusal to take itself seriously. Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick put together a fun, energetic version of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. Add new arrangements and musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings, and the end product is engaging, sassy, family-friendly and stuffed with talking points for the car ride home.
Tonight's Narrator is the warm and loveable Jeanine Sunday, who brings an almost maternal energy to the role, with a scolding tone for Joseph's wicked brothers as they sell him into slavery and a tender, encouraging one for Joseph, falsely accused and imprisoned in a foreign land. Something about her delivery makes me feel for the first time that Narrator maybe is not an external third party observer, but perhaps instead represents Joseph's inner monologue, the hopeful, persistent voice that is lodged in each of us during our darkest times, looking towards tomorrow for something brighter and better.
David Jennings as Pharaoh is full of swagger and camp, and his vocals are noticeably clearer than when I saw the show previously. He has a gift for physical comedy which is delightful to watch. Joey Ellinghaus as youngest brother Benjamin is appropriately wide-eyed, and DeCarlo Raspberry, playing brother Napthali, brings saucy energy as lead in "Benjamin Calypso."
The choreography by co-director Mark Minnick, is snappy, spunky, and extremely precise. Twelve sons, six women (the script refers to them as "Wives," but this production gives them no specific affiliation) and Jacob could easily be chaos. It fails entirely to be chaos. Moves are as precise and well-timed as those of an exuberant marching band. Groups move together as a unit, or in counterbalance, each scenario creating a specific "look," the whole production resembling a buffet of Broadway styles. People fond of stylistic consistency may not approve of JOSEPH, but those who enjoy patchwork and unlikely juxtapositions will find it quirky and fun.
Musical director Ross Scott Rawlings has created an extremely appealing arrangement for this production of JOSEPH. He puts the whole of "Any Dream Will Do" to the end of the show, as is sensible. That number at the beginning of the show slows the narrative and is generally regarded with puzzlement. The singing in this show, particularly important since the lyrics drive the narrative, as there is no spoken dialogue at all, needs to be clear enough for the audience to follow, and it is. There are some wonderful a capella bits, and the cast handles them beautifully, especially Wood Van Meter as Joseph, who handles an unaccompanied key change like a champ.
I do admire that Toby's has a miniature orchestra tucked discreetly in a pocket. Tonight, I love the bluesey trumpet of Tony Neenan during "Close Every Door," and I would swear I hear an accordion during "Canaan Days," so kudos to Ross Scott Rawlings and Ann Prizzi on keyboards. Multiple musicians designated to each instrument ensures a fresh take for every single performance. Corey Brown has a tricky job- sound in any theater presents a challenge, but sound in the round, even moreso. Everyone is audible and clear and vocals are balanced nicely so whomever sings lead in each number isn't drowned out by vocal power of this significantly-sized Ensemble.
The special lighting effects used during JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT are neither intrusive nor overpowering, though with a less delicate hand, they could be. Some fabulous programmable light panels add pizazz to the production, the haze and fog are used sparingly- no perceptible odor lingers- and not only does set and lighting designer David A. Hopkins keep up with the fast paced changes of the show- there are few blackout moments, and these are used for drama rather than practicality, but Colleen Foley, lighting tech, keeps up with the many (seriously, multiple hundreds) of light cues and is spot on, every time. There's razzle dazzle aplenty, but- and this is quite clever- we are eased into it. The early numbers are simple, with standard equipment, and gradually, numbers employ fancier tech, until the finale is full of wow.
The costuming for JOSEPH fully embraces the different genres of each musical number, with a variety of accessories, props, hats and wigs. The headgear alone would fill a nomad's tent. Many productions either don't bother to go full-on stylistically for each number, or don't have the budget for it, but Toby Orenstein as director/producer is both attentive and lavish. Costume designer Lawrence B. Munsey manages frequent character and costume changes seamlessly, and no one ever looks hastily garbed.
Next up as Narrator is another Toby's favorite, Coby Kay Callahan, through July 26th, If you're interested, Amanda Gunther of Theatrebloom (http://www.theatrebloom.com/) plans to review the show a total of five times, once for each new Narrator. JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT plays at Toby's through August 27th, 2017. After JOSEPH, DREAMGIRLS opens at Toby's on August 31 and plays through the middle of November.
Call Toby's Box Office for tickets or unanswered questions 410-730-8311 or 800-88-TOBYS. Box Office hours are from 10 am to 9 pm. Ticket prices vary, depending on which time/day you visit. Toby's is dark on Mondays, but there are evening shows Tuesdays through Thursdays, matinees on Sundays AND Wednesdays, and an early evening performance Sunday afternoon. Toby's Dinner Theatre is at 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD, 21044
Photo by Jen Tidwell: Joey Ellinghaus and DeCarlo Raspberry as Benjamin and Napthali, two of Jacob's twelve sons, in "Benjamin Calypso."