BWW Review: JOSEPH at DE All State Theatre
The 10th anniversary production of DE All State Theatre JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is staged at the sumptuous Laird Performing Arts Center at Tatnall School.
As co-founder Jeff Santoro states in his notes, the concept was sparked by a dinner conversation between he and co-founder Lisa Nowicki. There was All State sports of every flavor, All State Chorus, Orchestra, etc. Why not All State Theatre?
There is no doubt the experiences shared by the hundreds of students involved in every aspect of production will last a lifetime. A few have been so inspired they have gone on to majoring in theatre arts in college and even professional careers. Coincidentally at this production, I was sitting behind Chad Jervis and his family. Chad was Jekyll/Hyde in 2013, to me the most memorable DAST of the nine I have seen. He went on to the prestigious Berklee College of Music and has toured with his own band singing original music. The other star of that production, Kayla Saunders, a grad of Cab Calloway, has toured with Kristen Chenowith of WICKED fame, among a host of other accomplishments.
JOSEPH does not reach the heights of JEKYLL, but the opening night audience was warm and celebratory. Santoro turned over directing reins to longtime associate Deb Johnson and she admirably survived and thrived in the challenges, not the least of which was herding 63 performers from 30 schools!
You may have heard of the composer and lyricist, Lloyd Webber and Rice. The duo had a nice career.
The story is based on the "coat of many colors"' story of Joseph from Genesis, hence the trope that it is normally set and costumed in ancient Egypt.
One of the most beguiling - and ultimately fascinating - in the composition of the music is the variety of styles used by Lloyd Webber, including parodies of French ballads ("Those Canaan Days"), Elvis-inspired ("Song of the King"), western hill billy ("One More Angel In Heaven"), 1920s Charleston ("Potiphar"), Calypso ("Benjamin Calypso"), jazz ("Joseph's Dreams"), and 1950s music ("Go, Go, Go Joseph").
Johnson's vision was to re-create the Donny Osmond TV production. Here she staged it with uniformed children in a classroom setting, many of whom are middle schoolers.
Rather than ancient Egypt, then, the setting was a more or less contemporary farm where Joseph lived with his multitudinous (and envious) brothers.
Even in community theatre, one cannot escape references to the excesses of our Orange Oligarch President. In the opening scene of the Potiphar's (Thomas Gluodenis) castle, a slide of Trump's obscene Sadaam Hussein/Muammar Gaddafi-like residence in NYC was projected. The Pharaoh sat on the throne counting his gold bars. Was there an emoluments clause in the Bible? If so, let's put it to good use.
The Narrator, the satiny voiced Kyra McKillip is only a rising junior at Cab. Her 'Prologue' established confidence in the audience that the show was going to be a musical delight. McKillip's movements were staged but it was opening night. While her role was as teacher, it would have been more fun to see her garbed more theatrically.
(Kelly Kline did both the Musical Direction and conducted the 15-piece volunteer orchestra. The choral harmonies were terrific, again with such a considerable cast).
Joseph's 11 brothers perform usually as a group, but they each have their own different personalities, talents, and flaws. They conspire to sell Joseph into slavery, but as individuals they deal with the following years and how they can make amends. Reuben (Ryan Connor) leading in "One More Angel In Heaven", Simeon (Mark Worth) leading in "Those Canaan Days" and especially Judah (William Rotsch) leading with a perfect Bob Marley accent in "Benjamin Calypso" stand out.
The leading man, Joseph, DAST 'veteran' Keelin Reilly's next stop may be "America's Got Talent". His voice is simply mesmerizing, consoling, flowing like honey; similar to the emotions one feels when listening to John Denver sing 'Annie's Song'.
The tie-died costuming by Judy Hickman and Kathy Houff and the choreography by Shauna Goodman in the Act 1 finale "Go, Go, To Joseph" was spirited and wholly entertaining, especially to those who legitimately wore tie-dies almost 2 generations ago.
The Laird Center was designed to allow interaction with the cast. Director Johnson employed every opportunity to great effect. Audience members always love to see the actors up close.
Tatnall's Technical Director Rick Neidig has been the resident techie since DAST moved from The Playhouse. He employed slide and added fx to not only enhance the enjoyment of the show but give the students a professional baseline as they go forward. He received a special Legacy Award for his commitment to the arts. In his thank you, Neidig reached out to all the parents in the audience whose children were in the show. He thanked THEM for supporting their children in their dreams.
Through June 25 DASTonline.org Tickets available at door