It would be difficult to do a bad production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” but if any theater ever had two strikes against it from the outset, it’s Hale Center Theater Orem.
The theater has a very small acting space, and “Joseph” has a huge, very active cast. Plus, there’s audience on three, sometimes four sides in that theater, also making it difficult to stage a musical. (It’s hard to do a spectacle when there are no wings or curtains to hide behind.)
And yet, fantastically, despite these potential limitations, the Hale Center Theater does a bang-up job with the show. If you didn’t get to see the recent ultra-expensive Donny Osmond version at Kingsbury Hall, forget about it. This production in Orem is as entertaining and well-done as any production of this show has ever been, Donny or no Donny.
It has been said before that much of the credit goes to the show’s authors, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The show is short (way under two hours), fast-paced, light-hearted, and very clever. You can just picture lyricist Rice giggling with delight as he wrote one ridiculous rhyme after another, and Webber had a field day with a dozen or so different musical styles — everything from country-western to Calypso.
But the Hale Center Theater takes what is already a stellar script and score and turns it into something enthralling, almost magical. Under the guidance of legendary local director Syd Riggs, the large cast sings and dances and goofs around with energy, gusto, and conviction. Costumes change with lightning speed, often to fit the genre of music currently being utilized (the Elvis-adoring girl dancers’ costumes are particularly clever, being a neat blend between ancient Egyptian and ’50s teen-ager). There is literally never a slow moment in the show, as the pace is kept up continually, barely leaving you a chance to catch your breath.
There are two casts in the show, one on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I saw the Saturday cast, although the other cast’s Joseph (TJ Young) was filling in for Neal C. Johnson. The entire cast I saw was top-notch; I can only assume the other cast is just as good.
Jason Webb is particularly worth watching. He plays the Butler in the M-W-F cast and Reuben in the other cast, but the night I was there, he was doing double duty, playing both parts. This talented singer/actor was last seen in Provo Theatre Company’s “Forever Plaid,” where his innocent, infectious grin was also an asset. In “Joseph,” he brings wit and energy to both of his parts and manages to stand out, even in an ensemble cast where it’s possible for everyone to blend in together.
Jen Webb sings beautifully and IS beautiful as the Narrator, and TJ Young is as Joseph-y as any Joseph you’ll see: handsome, smart, a walking work of art, to paraphrase one of the show’s lyrics, not to mention possessing a seriously toothy grin and some decent acting skills. There’s actually some real emotion in “Close Every Door” (the show’s only really serious number), and in the reunion scene with his brothers and father.
Gordy Villarini is the Elvis-like Pharaoh, and as is often the case with this role, he is unintelligible when he sings. (I guess Elvis was rather unintelligible, too, now that I think about it.) This unfortunately limits what could otherwise be a very funny and appealing musical number, because you just can’t understand what he’s singing, so caught up is he in imitating Elvis’s mumbly vocal style.
Small criticisms aside, the show is fantastic. Despite the small acting space and large cast, it never gets crowded, even when there are over 20 actors onstage at once. The show is choreographed (by Brent Mills) so no one ever seems to be in anyone else’s way.
We won’t question why “Joseph” is so popular in Utah, and why nearly every theater in the state is performing it this year. The fact is, it’s a fun, family-friendly show, and any chance you have to see a good production of it, go for it. Hale Center Theater’s version is as good as any you’ll see, so take advantage of the opportunity now.
It's rather fashionable for theater folks to thumb their noses at "Joseph," because it's done so often and is such light, fluffy fare. But I will go on record as saying that it's one of my favorite shows. The music's catchy, the words are funny, it's almost always staged enthusiastically and vivaciously, and it's not too long. In my book, that's the makings of a great show. So shut up.