Fortunate son

CTC tries Webber and Rice’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on for size

’ROUND AND ’ROUND<br>Narrator Kaelyn Hughes looks on as Joseph (Lee Shawver) gets twirled by his dreamcoat.

Narrator Kaelyn Hughes looks on as Joseph (Lee Shawver) gets twirled by his dreamcoat.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

On stage is a painted sign: “Joseph Exhibit.” The curtain opens halfway, and a man with long hair wearing Middle Eastern-looking robes stands frozen. A teacher walks on stage followed by a flock of schoolgirls who line up, tallest to shortest.

The teacher turns to face the audience. The first notes of music rise from her throat; the man behind her stirs. It’s as if a museum exhibit has been brought to life. So begins Chico Theater Company’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which runs until late April.

CTC must have drained the local talent pool to put together its 35 cast members, who all had to combine the triple threat of singing, dancing and acting. Such virtuosity is an ambitious goal for many small theater companies, but CTC was able to deliver on this one.

Dreamcoat was created by two of musical theater’s modern heavyweights: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Webber is known for composing Broadway blockbusters such as Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats. The lyrics for Dreamcoat were written by Rice, who also co-wrote the lyrics for The Lion King with Elton John.

Dreamcoat first opened in 1968 and reflects the groovy, free-love atmosphere of the era. The musical is based on the Genesis story of Jacob and his sons. Jacob was descended from Abraham and Isaac, who are significant figures in both the Bible and the Quran. Jacob’s 12 sons came to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. His 11th and favorite son, Joseph, was gifted with the ability to interpret dreams.

The story begins with Jacob giving Joseph a fancy coat of many colors, and telling him that he is his favorite son. Joseph’s brothers become jealous of their father’s favoritism and sell Joseph into Egyptian slavery, telling Jacob that his favorite son is dead. Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams saves Egypt from famine and he is eventually reunited with his family when his brothers come begging for food.

Despite its biblical roots, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is more lighthearted entertainment than Sunday school Bible lesson. The music ranges from country western, to pop, to rock ‘n’ roll. The Pharaoh even swivels his hips like Elvis—because in Egypt he is The King.

There were a few technical difficulties during the show: sound system feedback, the younger members of the cast sometimes forgot they were on stage and would stare off into space, and at one point the narrator accidentally pulled off Joseph’s wig. The audience roared with laughter but the actors recovered well.

Despite that, CTC was able to put on an impressive show. The choreography, done by Bethany Johnson, was excellent. There were dances and matching costumes, and the comedic timing was impeccable. It seemed like the entire cast pushed itself to the limit.

Every scene with Jacob’s 12 sons was a delight to watch, especially when the actors yanked each other around the stage like the Three Stooges, times four.

The narration was handled by Kaelyn Hughes, who was the biggest vocal talent. Her voice soared above the rest of the cast with clear command, causing some of the other singers to fade into the background.

Lee Shawver, who played Joseph, was a competent singer, too, but his real gift was for physical comedy. Shawver danced, crawled and fell over and threw himself into the air like a Butte County version of Buster Keaton. His cartoon-like facial expressions made the children in the audience squeal with laughter.

CTC’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat isn’t a Broadway production with a Broadway budget, but the choreography and vocals shine through.