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Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Review of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Eastlight’s “Joseph” Gets a New Coat of Colors

Eastlight Theatre
By Kyle Motsinger
 

The 20th production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” opened last weekend at Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria. A holiday tradition, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice has been delighting audiences since Eastlight was founded in 1990. In past years, the show has remained much the same. This year, however, was different.

A clearly smart idea was to rethink the annual production of “Joseph.” I had seen the show once in high school and was impressed by the sets, lights, and strong cast. I had been told, however, that some audience members were getting tired of seeing the same sets, costumes, and cast. This year, director Robin Hunt, musical director Kristen Williams, and technical director Steve Cordle have come up with a fresh new approach.

This year, the curtain rises on a prologue, not sung by the narrator as in previous versions, but by a class. The class is taught by Brandon Chandler, who will later become the title character. The idea of a classroom was first introduced in the filmed production with Donny Osmond, but taken to a new and exciting level here. I especially loved that Chandler sang Joseph’s first number “Any Dream Will Do” as the teacher. Not having Joseph sing it was very clever and Chandler acted the number well. He made good use of the props on the stage during this number. It is so refreshing to see an actor do more than stand and sing straight at the audience.  That is sometimes effective, but can become boring if overused in staging. Some people call this “Park and Bark.”

The classroom transitions into the story of Jacob and his sons in Canaan. The set revolves and we are introduced to Joseph’s family. The narrator introduces us to this world and is played by Bree Carroll. After “Jacob and Sons”, cloth that was covering the stairs is pulled away to reveal new lighted stairs. It was a cool effect that is used well through the rest of the show. The stairs can change color based on the set. For the next few numbers, various sets revolved on with new and detailed backdrops. These backdrops really set up the locations for each song.

The most thrilling number of Act 1 was “Close Every Door.” It was by far the best set in the show and featured real flames and jail bars that reached into the rafters. Chandler was at his best here and has no troubles belting higher than the score.  He put his own impressive spin on the song and was engrossed in the hopelessness of Joseph’s situation. Chandler continues to grow as an actor and I predict a great career in theatre for him.

There were a few moments in the show that I didn’t feel worked. The first moment involved Joseph being sold into slavery. The Ishmaelites were played by recreations of the cast of “Glee,” the popular television series. The moment was funny at first but fell flat for me. It was a good topical joke, but it was at the expense of the plot. During “Close Every Door,” there was one moment that I was confused about. Kates Sitton danced a beautiful ballet in the instrumental break of the song. The problem was that it seemed to come out of nowhere. Who was she supposed to be? What was the ballet representing? While I don’t think it is a bad idea to put dance there, I think it needs to be clearer on the intentions of that moment. The other moment was a dance break in “One More Angel in Heaven.” While the “RiverValley and Heartland Cloggers were flawless in their tap break, the moment broke the momentum of the show. The cast of the show left stage and then a completely unrelated tap break began. Perhaps the moment would have worked with the group in costumes like the cast of the show or even if they has been onstage earlier with the other cast members were doing “One More Angel in Heaven.” Regardless, the audience loved it and I can’t deny the talent of the group. These were the only moments I didn’t like in an otherwise wonderful production.

Moments in the show that I particularly loved were Bree Carroll’s “Pharaoh Story” at the top of Act 2. Carroll has a strong “belt” voice.  She clearly possesses good vocal technique and she commands the stage during this music number in particular. Joseph’s brothers have many moments to shine. Stand-out performances for me included Adam Sitton and Damon Hackett in “Those Canaan Days,” Jeff Myers and Carmen McCarthy in “Potiphar,” Derek Pitzer and Scott Moore in “Benjamin Calypso,” Derek Childs and Stephen Peterson in “One More Angel in Heaven,” and Jeremy Kelly as the Pharaoh, a role that recalls his earlier performance in this season’s production of “All Shook Up.” The rest of the cast shined in all of the numbers and Robin Hunt’s choreography was fun and energetic. The “Mega Mix,” a medley of the numbers in the show, was by far the best choreography and dancing of the evening and the cast left the audience in an upbeat mood.

Eastlight Theatre’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was a great night of theatre. This holiday tradition is full of joy. Isn’t that what we all need these days?

Joseph continues Friday & Saturday, December 10 & 11 at 7:30 pm each night.  Tickets are $17 and are available by calling 699-7469 or online at www.eastlighttheatre.com

 
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