The Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice crowd-pleaser gets a dazzling, colorfully amped-up new production directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre

By: Jun. 09, 2023
Chris McCarrell (center). Photo by Jason Niedle.

As a fitting, enjoyably entertaining capper to its impressive 2022-2023 season, McCoy Rigby Entertainment is currently presenting a spectacular, epic-scaled new production of the reliably crowd-pleasing Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice musical JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT at its home at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, which continues performances through June 25, 2023.

Joyful, dazzling, and an all-around delight, this fresh, smile-inducing production---helmed and choreographed with welcome high-energy succinctness by Gerry McIntyre---is a wonderful, pleasant surprise to say the least… and has become, hands down, my absolute favorite iteration of this musical theatre staple (amongst both big and small scale) that I have ever experienced.

Granted, the show itself, to be perfectly honest, isn't one of my favorites---and, heck, it's not even my favorite Webber musical (that title belongs to his epic divalicious EVITA).

But over the years, I have learned to accept, appreciate, and even bask in the show's unabashed cheesy-ness and over-the-top, high-camp histrionics, ready to take in its specific machinations as a show that aims, above all else, to entertain rather than provoke much deep, thought-provoking discourse.

JOSEPH, of course, has an embedded reputation as a low-stakes, mass-appeal show, which explains why everyone from rabid theatre fans to conservative-leaning church ladies adore the show and its easy-to-take feel-good message. There's a reason the show has become a go-to staple among high school programs and amateur community theaters alike---it's a fairly safe bet.

Kelli Rabke (center). Photo by Jason Niedle

But, thankfully, La Mirada's new, genuinely winning production does something no previous production I have experienced has ever truly instigated… a clearer, more straightforward presentation of the storyline that doesn't feel choppy or truncated.

Past productions, I must say, have muddied this already thin narrative quite a bit, making it serve as mere launchpads for its memorable musical numbers. Here, Joseph's sung-through story feels more comprehensible and interwoven, while at the same time, in McIntyre and company's hands, the show also deservedly earns its stripes as a cavalcade of undeniable showstoppers that enhance the narrative, pushing out its agenda as a show that is so endearing and earnest that even those with the coldest of hearts can't help but root for its success.

Obviously it helps that the partnership between the La Mirada Theatre and that McCoy Rigby production team have already established quite a reputation for putting on Broadway-caliber stuff---and this JOSEPH is no exception.

Everything about this appealing, flashy production---from its incredibly talented ensemble's high-caliber performances to its eye-popping, mesmerizing visuals---is executed brilliantly and harmoniously, armed with a very discernible goal of wowing its audience at all costs.

Is it a work of genius? Perhaps not. But when both the cast members and its beaming audience are mutually having this much fun, does that really matter so much?

Narratively simplistic yet buoyantly entertaining, JOSEPH was the first ever Webber / Rice collab to be performed for the public, beginning with a short 15-minute "pop cantata" for their London prep school in 1968. The success of their 1971 Rock Opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR helped fast-track JOSEPH into a full-scale musical production for Edinburgh then the West End before finally debuting on Broadway a decade later in 1982.

Dino Nicandros and Peter Allen Vogt (center). Photo by Jason Niedle.

Completely sung-through while mixing different musical genres in cheeky, outrageous ways, JOSEPH is a campy, loose re-imagining of the biblical tale from the Book of Genesis that tracks the adventures of future-seeing psychic dreamer Joseph (the adorkable Chris McCarrell) who---as a reward for, uh, well, I guess for being special and awesome---is gifted "a coat of many colors" by his proud father Jacob (Peter Allen Vogt), much to the jealous rage of Joseph's 11 other brothers, who, as far as we can tell, have no discernible talents that would merit any similar attention from their daddy.

With the help of the show's über-talented, belt-tastic narrator---here played by the magnificent Kelli Rabke, whose vocal talents are a continuous highlight throughout the show---we learn that Jacob's favorite son has a knack for predicting the future via dream interpretations.

As the brothers' envy boils over---particularly after Joseph declares that one of his dreamed futuristic prophecies sees him ruling over all of them---they decide to murder him! That dark turn is soon lightened just a tad, with the brothers later deciding instead to sell Joseph into slavery to the Egyptian Empire.

With Joseph finally out of their lives, the brothers (and their wives) celebrate with unapologetic glee, going as far as inventing an elaborate lie for their father back home, claiming that Joseph has died after a vicious goat attack, and all that remains is the shredded, blood-soaked rainbow-hued outerwear he left behind.

Meanwhile enslaved Joseph slowly rises above his station under the "employ" of wealthy slaveowner Potiphar (played also by Vogt) but is soon thrown in jail when Joseph is accused of making advances at his boss' wife. Just as all hope is slipping away, Joseph's fellow cellmates encourage him not to abandon his dreams (since he's super good at interpreting them anyway).

Soon enough (well, after intermission) buzz about Joseph's dream-interpreting talents reach all the way up to the Pharaoh (the hilarious Daniel Dawson), who then asks him to predict what's coming. The Pharaoh is so grateful for knowing what is in store for his kingdom that he recruits Joseph to help him see that future into reality, essentially making him into his right-hand man and, therefore, the second most powerful person in the entire empire! What a turnaround!

Josh Grisetti (center) and company. Photo by Jason Niedle.

But will his star continue to rise, or is more tragedy and heartbreak in his future?

A true theatrical triumph crossed with a lively concert/party vibe, La Mirada's JOSEPH is an entertaining feast for all senses. Director McIntyre---a veteran of the stage show himself---has created a boundless creative environment for his JOSEPH, where everything from facial expressions and vocal delivery to dancers' high kicks and tumbles have an extra bit of high-energy oomph. His dynamic choreography, another highlight in the show, is also mesmerizing.

The show moves from one scene to the next with no hint of lulls, creating an extra exciting version of this show that jolts this now-classic musical into new life. While that kind of hyperkinetic energy could get overwhelming sometimes for some audience members, here, it feels like a refreshing, extra caffeinated bit of stage joy. It is precisely this cast's infectious cheeriness that makes it easy to love this lively production.

Visually, JOSEPH is as colorful and vibrant as its title suggests, further punctuated by the dazzling, eye-popping work of lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier paired with the extravagant sets on loan from 3-D Theatricals (which I hope will come out with new shows soon).

Sound-wise, the production feels immersively alive with the help of Josh Bessom's sound design, while Webber's score sounds grandiose and fantastic thanks to the orchestra led by musical director Jennifer Lin. One thing I should note is that La Mirada can boast possibly the best sound system of any theatre I have attended in the past few seasons---dialogue is crisp and clean and never competes or gets overpowered by the musical accompaniment. This investment in excellent sound has definitely benefited every show they've put on so far, including this most recent one.

And I cannot possibly rave more about this incredible cast that has been brought together for this production, led by the powerhouse vocals of Rabke that perfectly fit each and every song she sings or contributes in the show, starting from the opening prologue all the way to the her parts in the megamix that closes out the show. Even cooler is knowing that this marks her celebrated return to this lovely production that bestowed her her Broadway debut, after being handpicked to play the Narrator in the show's 1993 Broadway revival by Mr. Webber himself! Here, she brings a regal yet approachable every-woman angel presence to the role, as if she's the cast's resident matriarch and JOSEPH guru, and our fourth wall-breaking, real-world link to the man and the myth that is Joseph.

Daniel Dawson and Chris McCarrell (center) and company.
Photo by Jason Niedle.

Other standouts include the very funny Vogt whose histrionic double-duty as both Jacob (Joseph's Proud Papa) and Rich dude Potiphar (Joseph's boss) raises the show's camp factor ten-fold.

Meanwhile, the actors who play Jacob's envious sons are also all individually excellent, especially the three individual Jo-Bros who get their own featured songs to showcase their musical theater talents: I absolutely loved the heightened melodrama that Dino Nicandros' turn as Reuben, Joseph's extra-jealous brother, squeezes out of the Country-Western tinged "One More Angel in Heaven" that had the audience in stitches. Later, scene-stealing Josh Grisetti, who plays Joseph's brother Simeon, leads a woefully hilarious, French-flavored family lament in "Those Canaan Days" that became a literal showstopper many times. And then much later, Ceron Jones breaks out some mirthful, calypso-reggae-infused sounds as Joseph's brother Judah in "Benjamin Calypso."

Kudos also go out to Dawson who gets a featured song in the show as well, though not as Joseph's brother Levi, but in his second (surprise) role in the show: the Pharaoh. In one of many silly genre-departures the show uses to transport the audience from Biblical times to the Biblical times' equivalent of something seen/heard in more modern times, Egypt suddenly resembles Las Vegas, and its King, the Pharaoh is actually… well, a King, in the form of someone that has a remarkable resemblance to past Vegas headliner Elvis Presley. Dawson's hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hunka-hunka-burnin-love flavored performance in "Song of the King" is filled with enough lip snarls and hip gyrations to make Elvis himself very proud. What a fun way to open Act 2!

And, of course, as the title character, the very talented McCarrell brings a newfound innocence and youthfulness to his take on the role of Joseph, that I really found beguiling and refreshing. Previous Josephs I have witnessed in other productions have all relied on their hulking presence; but here, McCarrell's quiet strength and vulnerability allows his Joseph to understandably have a charming naivety about his gifts. Though there were times when his costars sometimes dwarf his presence precisely because he's exuding a more subtle prowess, I found that it made his character even more endearing. He's a young, innocent dreamer---he should probably look and act like one! And, yes, to top it off, McCarrell has a superb singing voice, especially during his stirring ballads in the show that shows off his Broadway-honed belt.

Overall, this ensemble cast is just uniformly wonderful, and their hard work is clearly evident throughout the show.

Kelli Rabke (center). Photo by Jason Niedle.

So, yes, it finally happened. Leave it to the folks at McCoy Rigby and the La Mirada Theatre to produce a version of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT that has forever turned me into a JOSEPH Stan. Congratulations!

And if you're looking for a family-friendly musical that's also an excellent showcase of singing and dancing talents, then book yourself a trip back to those Canaan Days and see this show!

Follow this reviewer on Twitter / Instagram: @cre8iveMLQ.

Photos by Jason Niedle courtesy of La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.



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