BWW Reviews: Marc Robin Turns JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT Into A Dancers' Musical At The Fulton
When the Fulton Theatre's production of A CHORUS LINE came out, this reviewer declared it as possibly being better than the original, at least for a current audience. That opinion has in no way changed. However, keeping that firmly in mind, it must be stated that the Fulton's current production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNOCOLOR DREAMCOAT needs no modifiers - it simply is better than the original, and it may be better than director/choreographer Marc Robin's A CHORUS LINE as well. The difference is that when re-choreographing Michael Bennett's classic dancer musical, what could be changed, and where, with regard to dance was clearly laid out - and Robin re-choreographed it as the Fosse student he is, in a style not that far off from Bennett's. JOSEPH, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice has always been a mostly choral piece, however, originally a school cantata in 1968, then a concept album, and then staged. It has always been a singers' piece, not a dancers' show, depending on what directors choose to do with it.
What Marc Robin has done with it is to turn it into a homage not to Bob Fosse, though Fosse's work is plain throughout it, but to musical theatre choreography as a whole. There are traces of Michael Kidd (OKLAHOMA), Gillian Lynne (CATS), Kate Flatt (LES MISERABLES), Luke Cresswell (STOMP), and of everyone who's ever designed a Las Vegas showgirl number. Rather than re-envisioning existing dance routines as he did in A CHORUS LINE, Robin has taken a singers' show and turned it into a celebration of stage dance. Theatregoers who know their shows will recognize the echoes of the Manson Trio from PIPPIN, Billy Flynn's entrance in CHICAGO, and even Elvis Presley's Vegas concerts - from the Luxor Casino, one supposes, as Steve Czarnecki, the show's Pharaoh, borrows from the fine JOSEPH tradition of playing Pharaoh as Elvis. In a nod to the joys of modernity, Pharaoh's prize chariot is a Segway.
This is a brilliant, colorful staging, harking back to the JOSEPH traditions of the children's chorus (a delightful crowd of young performers), to Jacob's shepherding a stuffed sheep, and of Elvis, King of Egypt, while adding not just Segways but such touches as Jacob's iPad photo album for the amusement of anachronism. It's always been treated much as a children's show, so these touches are never out of line. But it's the sheer brilliance of Robin's turning "Joseph's Dream" into a Fosse tap routine harking to ALL THAT JAZZ, or "One More Angel In Heaven" becoming a scene from OKLAHOMA, that dazzles as much as, or more than, Joseph's famous coat.
Introducing Potiphar (Andrew Kindig, who also plays Jacob and Pharaoh's butler, all with a fine touch of humor) with a nod to PIPPIN's Manson Trio is a move not only of choreographic delight but of stunning irony, as is then moving into CHICAGO to further the moment. Who is Mrs. Potiphar (Lisa Rumbauskas, with a series of undulations that would undo lesser mortals than Joseph), after all, but the first Roxie Hart?
"Those Canaan Days" is offered up by Joseph's brother Reuben (a fine Michael Pilato) in something close to Maurice chevalier's delivery - which leads into a scene wildly lampooning LES MISERABLES; the red flag is almost unnecessary, but may be a moment of putting a cherry on top of an already delicious cake.
Joseph himself is Nathan Meyer, whose voice carries the day in the two classic numbers from this show, "Close Every Door" and "Any Dream Will Do" (sung only in the second half in this version). He's placed with an equally fine Narrator, Abby Mueller, whose black Hilary Clinton pantsuit and blonde pageboy make her resemble nothing so much as a history-minded Secretary of State touring the ancient Middle East with the audience in her tow.
Given the heavy work of dancing in this show, it's only fitting that Robin should bring back many of his cast from A CHORUS LINE. It's a pleasure to see Kevin Curtis back, playing the imprisoned baker, and Nathaniel Shaw as Levi, Alex Pepper as Benjamin, and Gabriel Malo as Gad.
JOSEPH suffers greatly from its being labeled a children's show or a family show. Although it's clean, certainly, it needn't suffer as it often does from being thought of as niche, suitable primarily for high school groups to perform or to see, or as one of those shows that is fine for taking the kids or grandma to go see because there will be nothing to explain. This is a production of it that lifts it from its frequent curse of seeming as if it's not really aimed at adult audiences. Even the genre numbers such as the "Benjamin Calypso" have been pulled out of mere cuteness and placed firmly into solid routines.
Yes, Robin's gone for some of the easy schtick. Yes, he's left few vaudeville stones unturned. Yes, this show may deserve better than the cheap comedy shots that directors love to insert. And yes, JOSEPH is, as other reviewers have described it, "an old War Horse" - but it's one that deserves some invention or reinterpretation in order to make it fresh, because the music is solid even though the show is slight and has long been saddled with cheesiness. Robin isn't presenting a new way of looking at the material or of understanding it, but he has succeeded in making this less of a brightly costumed musical spectacle and more of a celebration of dance as a whole. Webber musicals aren't noted for their flashy footwork - but why not? Robin's taken a show that's basically something easy to listen to and made it astonishing to watch, drawing from a choreographic palette that's considerably wider than most.
This is a transformation of a simple musical piece into a montage of modern theatrical dance, and, in the same way that Diane Paulus' reinvention of PIPPIN as a circus has made a slight book and a few good numbers far more interesting than it's been in decades, Robin has made JOSEPH far more interesting to watch than it's been in much the same length of time. It's not deep, it's not meaningful, but it's great stage dance, and that's more than enough, especially in the summer.
At the Fulton Theatre through June 30, and possibly the best total fluff of the summer season besides the eagerly awaited Totem Pole Playhouse DAMES AT SEA. Call 717-397-7425 or visit www.thefulton.org for tickets.
Photo Credit: Fulton Theatre