Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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The Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley makes use of a fantastic stage, detailed costumes and energetic performers to make its production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” a cut above the other 4,000 productions of that show going on this year.

You know the story by now. Based on the story in Genesis, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s fluffy, light-hearted musical tells of Joseph, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He rises to power under the Elvis-like Pharaoh and winds up being the means of saving his now-penitent brothers from starvation. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Lloyd Webber’s tunes are catchy and lively, making this a musical that actually bears a few repeat viewings. And the large cast in West Valley sings and dances with enthusiasm and vigor, making use of every inch of the theater-in-the-round stage.

The stage, in fact, is the real star of the show. It looks like your basic turntable, except that it also raises and lowers. Furthermore, it’s divided into four wedges and a centerpiece, all of which can rise and fall independently of the others. This means any number of different levels can be created whenever necessary, and with the rotating stage, actors can be displayed to all parts of the audience without having to turn around themselves.

The Narrator (Ronica Symes) is likable and down-to-earth, adding a nice, homey feel. She begins by singing to a few children selected from the audience — a cheap trick to win the audience’s sentiment, but it’s an effective one. (Seeing children smile melts ANYONE’S heart.)

Cary Charron has a marvelous singing voice as Joseph, and he displays more acting skill than one generally sees in that role. Of the several productions of this show I’ve seen, this is the first one in which Joseph and Jacob’s reunion at the end actually has any emotional power. Charron is also less toothy and tan than many other Josephs we’ve seen, making him seem less superhero-like and more realistic.

Gordy Villarini hams it up big time as the Elvis-like Pharaoh, though his singing is largely incoherent. (Is there a rule that all “Joseph” Pharaohs have to be so intent on imitating Elvis that you can’t understand them? I’ve heard the real Elvis sing, and as I recall, he was intelligible.) Villarini even stops the music to do an extended bit with the audience, milking the Elvis thing for all it’s worth, and then some.

Kurk Davidson’s costume design is a hit, too. No corners are cut and no expenses spared in dressing everyone like whatever part they’re playing. The brothers are in full cowboy regalia in “One More Angel in Heaven,” and the go-go dancers during “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” look every bit the part, complete with plastic headpieces in lieu of wigs (a very cool touch). And of course there are loincloths aplenty.

Mearle Marsh’s orchestrations are also quite good, and a little different from the prerecorded music we’ve heard in other productions. It’s still prerecorded — where would they put an orchestra if they had one? — but it sounds crisp and original. (Believe me, once you’ve seen this show a few times, the slightest variation in the orchestration is welcome.)

Hale Centre Theatre does a few things differently, but there’s reason for them — they’re not being different just for the sake of being different. The jokes are good, the sight gags are fun (watch Benjamin try to resuscitate the innocent goat whose blood is used in the Joseph kidnapping), and the props and set pieces are entertaining.

There’s not room to mention every cast member’s name, so we’ll have to credit them as a group: They’re good. Even performers with small parts work their stage time with zeal and energy, adding up to a show that is an all-around success. (The show is double-cast; this review refers to the Monday/Wednesday/Friday peformers.) Even if you’ve seen “Joseph” before, don’t miss this one. It may go down as being the definitive production — at least until next year, when 10 more theaters do it.

I enjoyed using the phrase "loincloths aplenty" in this review. In fact, I think Loincloths Aplenty would be a good name for a rock group.

This was the fourth "Joseph" I'd seen, and it was probably the best to that point. The only problem with the show was the guy at the drive-thru window at Burger King, where we stopped on the way to the theater. He was really slow and wanted to repeat back our order about a dozen times -- and yet there was still lettuce on Phil's chicken sandwich, despite his having asked for none of it. I guess this was technically not a problem with the show per se, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

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