Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
How do you like your biblical narratives? Finger-snapping and toe-tapping? If so, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sunny foray into jealousy, betrayal and oppression, is the musical for you. It’s not profound. It won’t change lives or inspire deep philosophical stirrings. But by clearing low technical hurdles and casting actors with charm and energy (and a handful who can sing), a company staging Joseph has a decent shot at giving audiences a breezy experience that will leave them humming light, infectious songs. This is more or less what director Jim Bernardi and the Nevada Repertory Company aspire to—and achieve—in their current production.
As any aficionado of Judeo-Christian lore knows, Joseph is an irrepressible youth, who, despite charisma, talent and good looks, can’t seem to catch a break. From being sold into slavery by his envious brothers to being jailed for a passive role in a tryst with his master’s sleazy wife, a nice guy never had it so hard. In the end, though, he’s just so gosh-darn likable that he can’t help bouncing back to teen-idol status in the Egyptian Pharaoh’s court. (Sorry for the spoiler, but if you haven’t gotten around to reading Genesis by now…)
Though the plot centers on the titular character, any production of Joseph is really only as strong as its Narrator. Fortunately, Hana Freeman shines in the show’s only truly vocally demanding role. She is an extremely strong vocalist, and the show benefits greatly from her near-constant presence. She’s a delight, but Joseph’s brothers are the real wind in this production’s sails. For guys who sell their own brother into slavery after nearly murdering him, they sure are affable. The show hits its greatest heights when the brothers are onstage together, delivering crisp vocals and fluid comedic movements. Particularly, the number “Those Canaan Days,” led by a sardonic yet wistful Scott House, is alone worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, the brothers’ effortless swagger is unmatched by several other elements of the production. As Joseph, the fresh-faced Zac Rogers has the perfect look and an endearing brand of cockiness, but he tends to tire vocally and struggles in non-ensemble songs.
He does deserve some slack; NRC’s wireless microphones (whose ever-present rustling is often distracting) are treacherously unforgiving, especially when actors’ voices are as physically far in front of the music as they are in UNR’s Redfield Proscenium. Other weaknesses include a first act ending that’s intended to pump up audiences but only manages to flirt with mild optimism, a female chorus that’s never quite in step, and a finale that, to put it charitably, feels under-rehearsed.
Being more forgiving than a wrathful Old Testament deity, however, I’ll not smite the show for these non-fatal flaws. I’m pleased to report that Bernardi has overcome the typical bane of local musical theater—a shallow talent pool—through efficient casting. Specifically, Art Anderson offers a wonderful characterization of the Elvis-like Pharaoh, and Ryan Palomo and Michael Blake Rapisora are crowd-pleasers in their respective country and calypso solos. And in the small role of Joseph’s father, David Seibert lends the show charm.
So, it has its rough patches and, as an old director friend of mine would say, “It ain’t Chekhov,” but NRC’s Joseph should leave you gaily singing tunes of biblical heroism.