BWW Reviews: CCP's JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT One of 2012's Best
Tall, blond and handsome-and looking for all the world like some sort of biblical superhero-Colin Cahill may be the ideal Joseph, given the sumptuous and fast paced production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat that's onstage at Cumberland County Playhouse through December 23. Cahill charms and entertains as Jacob's favorite son, surrounded by what seems like a cast of thousands, bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical to life with enough energy to power every household along the Cumberland Plateau.
Directed by Playhouse veteran Britt Hancock (who does double-duty as the Elvis-inspired Pharaoh) with the able assistance of Weslie Webster, choreographer Leila Nelson (who works overtime as The Narrator, a role she shares with Anna Baker) and musical director Ron Murphy, CCP's 2012 version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is definitely the best we've ever seen-and may, in fact, be our favorite musical that we've seen all year long. It's exuberant and exhilarating, joyous and fun and the action moves at a breakneck pace that will have you on The Edge of your seat anticipating the twists and turns of Joseph's spirited adventure.
Even with all the superb musicals we've seen at Cumberland County Playhouse over the years (remember, we go back some 20 or so years reviewing shows at the venerable Crossville venue), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat outshines much of what we've seen there. Hancock's concept for the production is imaginative and clever, spanning the decades to present a story of timeless impact and universal appeal.
Based upon the story of Joseph and his multi-colored coat from the book of Genesis, Webber's Joseph (which was his first musical, first written as a cantata for a school performance in 1968 and later expanded for a concept album that led to its eventual staging as a full-scale musical) is a favorite with CCP audiences and it's been presented there several times, but this concept is completely fresh and new for me (even if some of the concept might be retreads from earlier stagings). In this one, the show starts out as a video diversion for children-the narrator appears onscreen to lead her young, impossibly adorable charges through the story-and she introduces Joseph to relate the tale of attempted fratricide, feast and famine and the enduring effects of family love.
With Cahill as the athletic, capable lead-he sings, he dances, he emotes with equal grace and dexterity and he has a smile as big as the Pyramids-Hancock and Webster have assembled a cast that includes professional company members along with a large group of community volunteers and two casts of children to bring the story to life throughout the holiday season. Paired with Cahill as the narrator, at the performance reviewed, Leila Nelson (another Playhouse veteran who has virtually grown up on the Crossville stage) gives an amazing performance, showing off her singing talents in a way heretofore unseen and exhibiting her tremendous range and stage presence in new and surprising ways. Add to her performance the fact that she choreographed the huge cast with impeccable style and you can't help but be awestruck by her.
Between the two of them, Cahill and Nelson keep the plot moving along, interacting with the other characters with ease, ensuring that a good time will be had by all throughout the rollercoaster-like ride of musical storytelling. They are surrounded by some of The Playhouse's most capable performers, including Joseph's free-wheeling and charming "brothers," played by John Dobbratz, Quinn Cason, Jason Ross, Michael Ruff, Greg Pendzick, Daniel W. Black, Donald Frison, Austin Price, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, Chaz Sanders and Isaiah Banegas (who alternates with Cory Clark as Judah). Jack Seville is very effective as Jacob, with Mark Stenson good as Potiphar and Dee Hill burns up the stage with her delightful performance as the randy Mrs. Potiphar. Lauren Marshall completes the cast of principals as The Baker, whose future is foretold via the interpretation of her dreams by Joseph, and Dobbratz takes on the role of The Butler. Hancock's Vegas-inspired turn as the King-oops, the Pharaoh-shows off the versatile director/actor at his showiest best.
The principals are joined by the "cast of thousands" referred to earlier, including Webster, Lindy Pendzick, Carly Amburn, Carol Irvin and many more CCP favorites and the community volunteers who make Joseph… such an infectious, joyful romp. Frankly, if you've never seen a show at Cumberland County Playhouse, this would be an ideal initiation, and if you've seen countless shows there prior to this, then Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is like the cherry on the top of the most perfect ice cream sundae you've ever been served.
The musical numbers are engagingly presented, with Cahill's renditions of "Any Dream Will Do" and "Close Every Door to Me" as good as any you've ever heard, while the company's "Go, Go, Go, Joseph" (which features cheerleaders and such) is inventively presented, the 11 brothers' version of "Those Canaan Days" is slyly hilarious (particularly thanks to Ross' perfectly timed delivery) and the high-spirited finale sends audiences home with a sprightly step and a song in their hearts.
There is so much going on in this production and the presentation of the story is so awash in high style, it's next to impossible to describe-suffice it to say that it's like a kaleidoscope of colors filling the theatre, engulfing you in music. The show's fanciful storytelling takes you right to the heart of Joseph's unbelievable tale of woe, which he overcomes with his appealing charm and accessible nature, and the promise of his early life ultimately is fulfilled. And that's really all you need to know…for reference, check out Genesis for the story, then sit back and let this glorious show (featuring the lyrics of Webber's longtime collaborator Tim Rice) take you over.
Leonard Hartman's set design-which features multi-level platforms and staircases with some gorgeous set pieces flown in for maximum impact, emblematic of the tongue-in-cheek humor that permeates the production-provides the perfect backdrop for the fast-changing scenes, while E. Tonry Lathroum's lighting design provides extraordinary illumination for the events transpiring before you, and Ryan Haderlie is responsible for the strong sound design that ensures you hear every word. Miraculously, costume designers Rebel Michelson and Renee Luttrell wittily clothe their huge cast in eye-popping colors and help to create the overall visual impact of the production.
Nelson's choreography is extraordinary, as she makes use of the entire space of the CCP Mainstage theater, challenging her cast members with the intricacy of her dances, which are set perfectly to the score performed with such electrifying professionalism by Murphy and his orchestra, which includes Kathy Bowers, Wayne Robbins, Drew Robbins, Chet Hayes, Chris Rayis, Joe Brindisi, Greg Danner and Tony Greco.
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Directed by Britt Hancock. Co-directed by Weslie Webster. Musical direction by Ron Murphy. Choreography by Leila Nelson. Presented by Cumberland County Playhouse, Crossville. Through December 23. For details, call www.ccplayhouse.com; for reservations, call (931) 484-5000.