BWW Review: JOSEPH...DREAMCOAT at Sundance Summer Theater
Go, go, Joseph. Go, go West.
Without a doubt, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is Utah's most frequently performed musical. It's hard not to find one of the ubiquitous stagings, from high schools to large community theater companies all across the state. So the challenge is to make JOSEPH fresh and new when audiences are already familiar with the sight gags and punchlines before entering the theater, if not also all the lyrics to each of the songs.
How about set the show in a wholly unique locale? Not in Egypt as originally written and the timeframe theatergoers have come to expect.
Kudos to Director D. Terry Petrie. He makes the bold decision to set the musical on the American Western frontier, in the era of saloons, spurs, and saddles, swapping the arid desert of the ancient world for the arid desert of the U.S. prairie. Audiences are offered to see JOSEPH through new eyes and perhaps make the familial warmth and strong moral of the story more relatable.
And when the theater is nestled near the mountaintops of the Sundance Mountain Resort - founded by movie star/gentleman cowboy Robert Redford - the question becomes "why not?"
The coproduction between the resort and Utah Valley University is lively and entertaining, with a unique western twist. The cowpoke concept works fine, with a few quibbles about more fully realizing the idea.
This first collaboration between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice includes songs that are bright with bounce, a wide of pastiche numbers. They have written bubblegum pop (the Narrator's "Prologue"); soft rock (Joseph's "Close Every Door"); Elvis swivel (Pharaoh's "Song of the King"); a Jacques Brel knockoff (Simeon's "Those Canaan Days"); and even a sprightly Jamaican reggae (Judah's "Benjamin Calypso"). There's only one country twang song in the score, (Reuben's "One More Angel in Heaven"). One must agree that it would have been wonderful to hear those songs rearranged and performed by a live, onstage honky-tonk group. And how about an unexpected song added to the disco-flavored "Joseph Megamix" finale, perhaps The Village People's "Go West"?
The design team of Nancy Cannon and Carla Summers has assembled colorful, era-appropriate costumes that dazzle. Joseph's colorful coat is cleverly constructed as a patchwork quilt of brightly colored bandanas, and saloon hall girls are sequined in elaborate dresses. The problem is there is not enough variety to clearly distinguish characters. The wardrobe of two main players crucial to the storyline - Pharaoh (a fine Carson Davies) and Potiphar's Wife (Ellie Smith, who absolutely sizzles in the role) - should have had more bling, more "Rhinestone Cowboy" to reference a second Redford movie. And when are Joseph's brothers and their wives on stage and not ensemble members?
There is nary a single changed line of the script to denote the wild, wild west. Rather than the blood of a passing goat to substitute for Joseph's when the brothers stage his death, the blood of a jackalope is used in this staging. It's a surprise, and the audience laughs. More similar alterations - Joseph arriving in "the territory of Egypt," for example, and similar quips to indentify and colorfully comment on the new western concept - would add pizzaz.
Emily Rose Lyons as Narrator and Preston Taylor as Joseph are well cast in their lead roles. They have the stage presence to carry the show and perform well, given the unique circumstances of opening night when there was a major mishap. During the middle of the first act, the sound board at Sundance went on the fritz. Not only were there multiple missed cues but the balance was wholly off for the majority of the evening. It's hoped that this was a one-time occurrence, but it dramatically affected the audience's enjoyment of the show when Taylor's big solo, "Close Every Door," was completely inaudible during the first third of the song. When his mic was restored, it was so loud audience members were startled of their seats.