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JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Tim Rice

Granbury Theatre Company

ARTISIC STAFF:

Artistic Director/President, Board of Directors- Micky Shearon
Director- Domanick Anton Hubbard
Assistant Director- Emily Warwick
Music Director- Jamie Deel
Choreographer- Brittany Jenkins
Scenic Designer- Kerri Pavelick
Costume Designer- Emily Warwick
Lighting Designer- Cameron Barrus
Sound Designer/ Sound Board Operator- Kyle Hoffman
Prop Master- Gaylene Carpenter
Costumers- Missy Brooks, Tonya Laree, Drenda Lewis

THE COMPANY:
Narrators-Amanda Williams Ware, Caitlan Leblo, Emily Warwick
Joseph - Matt Beutner (Cody Jenkins*-Understudy)
Jacob/Butler- Shane Brooks (Friday/ Saturday evenings)
Jacob/Butler- Jamie Deel (Saturday/Sunday Matinees)
Reuben - Logan Throckmorton
Simeon - Jordan Houston*
Levi - JD Choate
Naphtali – Joshua Emmanuel McRae Davis*
Issachar - Austin Bender
Asher - Zach Zagrocki
Dan - Cody Jenkins
Zebulon - Aaron Brooks*
Gad – Levi Casler
Benjamin - Cutter Willmeth
Judah - Ben Larson*
Potiphar- Austin Bender
Mrs. Potiphar -Jadie Phelps*
Baker- Cody Jenkins*
Pharaoh-Brian Lawson
Butler- Shane Brooks (Friday/ Saturday evenings)
Butler- Jamie Deel (Saturday/Sunday Matinees)

Ensemble
Reilly Kaye Anderson
Amanda Brooks*
Andrew Bullard (Brother Understudy)
Kristin Cox
Rebecca Ford
Ashley Green
Aliaina Gunter
Neely Heil
Kaitlyn Howard
Jennie Jermaine*
Jadie Phelps**
Cheyenne Shreve

*Denotes Dance Corps
**Denotes Dance Captain

Children’s Chorus
Andrea Malcom
Audrey Ann McKee
Berklee Heil
Demi Roman
Devyn Roman
Liz Heil
Rachel Mastick
Zander Kelly

TECHNICAL STAFF:

Technical Director- Kalani Morrissette
Stage Manager- Taylor Ray Donaldson
Assistant Stage Manager/ Light Board Operator- Kelsey Pavelick
Stage Running Crew- Missy Brooks, Taylor Ray Donaldson, Brian Lawson
Spotlight Operators- Faith Melton, Whitney Shearon


Reviewed Performance: 8/25/2017

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Ah, that well known tale of a dude named Joseph and his quite colorful fashion coat. But this coat resulted in his eleven brothers to devise a sinister plan to throw their brother into a pit, then tear apart a sheep and use its blood to splatter all over this coat to show Jacob (their father) that Joseph was dead. Why would they do this? And what did that poor sheep do to them? Was this coat designed by Gianni Versace? Dolce & Gabbana? Jean-Paul Gautier? Or was this a new version of Project Runway involving sheep and multi colored fabrics? Nope. It was because these eleven bros were so green with envy and jealousy that Joseph was the favorite son of their dad. So much so he gave this golden son a coat that had a ton of colors on it.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical based on this biblical story is the go to money maker for non-equity and equity theaters, high schools, churches, etc. It made its Broadway debut in 1982 and received its first Broadway revival in 1993, followed by four national tours. It was also filmed in 2000 with Donny Osmond in the title role.

As an actor I have done four productions of Joseph, two equity (Florida, Pittsburgh) and two non-equity (Texas). In those four I have portrayed the Pharaoh (twice), the Baker, and all four times as the brother Simeon.

I caught the 1993 revival at the Minskoff starring Michael Damian and would also see several of its national tours, one starring Patrick Cassidy and another starring Sam Harris.

Fun fact: Sam Harris is blessed with a mega thunderous tenor voice than can sustain notes much longer than most singers. He is the male version of Patti LaBelle. Thus for “Close Every Door” the musical director added extra music that allowed Harris to belt and sustain that ending note for countless measures. I saw that tour five times at Dallas Summer Musicals, and Harris did indeed do that…every single time!

There is lately gossip popping up around the great white way that Joseph will have its third Broadway revival this season that will be yet again be tinkered and retooled by Sir Webber.

For the 1993 Broadway revival he composed much more dance music/breaks as well as new orchestrations. There was also the addition of the Apache Dancers for “Those Canaan Days”. In the original Broadway production there were eight ensemble women. For the revival there were eleven women who would be the wives of the brothers. Finally, Webber composed a pop/disco megamix for the finale. It is this 1993 version that is has been used by theater companies as well as the version filmed starring Osmond.

As an audience member and as a theater critic I have seen/reviewed countless-and I MEAN countless productions of Joseph.

All this background info leads to this revelation: I have seen both the good and bad of this often produced musical. A key major draw for me is still Webber’s infectious and melodic score that dips into various genres of music.

But the major mistake that too many productions make is to just copy either the DVD or the 1993 revival. Each time I see a production of Joseph, it only takes less than five minutes to realize this will be yet another dull, paint by number replica of the aforementioned examples. That’s when I slump in my seat and hit the snooze button in my brain.

On Friday night I settled into my seat at the Granbury Opera House that is the home for the Granbury Theater Company, which has been remodeled to elegant refinement. Within five minutes I realized that this was going to be a different vision of Joseph.

There were two “groups” per se within the cast that raised the bar that delivered the bona fide magic of musical theater artistry, from the first number to the finale.

The first is actually a trio made up of Amanda Williams Ware, Caitlan Leblo, and Emily Warwick who portray the narrators. This role is normally played by one lone female. But I have seen past productions where the role is divided up using two or more ladies. This multi-casting of the role has been met with various results. I saw one version here in the DFW area that had ten women playing the role, a nightmare that I pray I never see again.

Ware, Leblo, and Warwick become three divas that have the earthshattering vocal power that was wholly astounding. They were dressed in black outfits accessorized with big silver necklaces and glitter heels. Their make-up applied beautifully and powered. Musical Director Jamie Deel did the impossible here, in that he divided not only the songs, but also the lyrics so that each girl had equal moments in the spotlight. What made my jaw drop was the EXTRAORDINARY way in which all three released within their solos these almighty pop vocal riffs that I have never heard from that role. The three of them reached impossible soprano notes that were not written on the sheet music. As if that wasn’t enough, Ware, Leblo, and Warwick each possessed invincible, compelling belting power. Oh, did I mention the harmonies? They made their vocals intertwine and ebb between each other achieving lush, pop flavored, harmonies. What these three ladies and Musical Director Jamie Deel created here is what I CRAVE for when a theater mounts a well-known musical. It was distinctive and exciting. This concept could have easily crashed and burn, but not with these three vocal lionesses at the helm. If Celine Deon was in the audience she would be in the lobby on her cell phone at intermission calling Mariah Carey telling her, “Girl, we are in trouble!”

The second “group” was not one, or two, but eleven actors who portrayed Joseph’s brothers. I lost count on how many times that you can easily detect where a director just told the brothers as though there were one to “act surprised here”; “get mad”, or “be happy in this scene”, causing all eleven actors to react the same. It’s like they all crammed into one car like circus clowns getting into a tiny toy VW and all drove on the same characterization road. They all fuse into one, thus losing individuality. This does not happen whatsoever with this band of brothers. I watched them very closely all evening long. When moments, scenes, or situations arose, each one of them created their own emotion or reaction. They never tried to upstage each other or used a prop to pull focus away. Each actor gave their role his own voice and characterization.

When it came to sing the score as eleven, their vocals out of nowhere became puissant and titanic. You could distinctly hear the harmonies that were robust and full of vocal mastery. Finally came the choreography created by Brittany Jenkins. It was evident that the professionally trained male dancers were downstage, while the ones who were not up to that level were upstage. And yet every single one of them executed the choreography with high voltage energy and worked their derrières off! The pros executed the more difficult, complicated choreography assigned to them with unblemished and focused dance technique.

Both as an actor and a critic, to see this much attention and detail given into the acting, dancing, and singing from these eleven thespians is a rare find when it comes to these productions of Joseph.

The eleven superstars that comprise the brothers were Logan Throckmorton (Reuben), Jordan Houston (Simeon), JD Choate (Levi), Joshua Emmanuel McRae Davis (Naphtali), Austin Bender (Issachar), Zach Zagrocki (Asher), Dan (Cody Jenkins), Aaron Brooks (Zebulon), Levi Casler (Gad), Cutter Willmeth (Benjamin),and Ben Larson (Judah).

Special kudos goes out to the five brothers who danced with superlative talent, execution, and technique as members of the male dance corps: Aaron Brooks, Jordan Houston, Cody Jenkins, Ben Larson, and Joshua Emmanuel McRae Davis.

There are three numbers that that are led by one brother that Webber composed within his score. Aaron Brooks sings the country and western song “One more Angel in Heaven” like he was the son of Garth Brooks. His country twang and solid baritone vocals were just bootin scootin fantastic throughout the song. Jordan Houston led the company with “Benjamin Calypso.” Houston created his own Jamaican vocal riffs that made the song his very own and his facial expressions were priceless. Finally there is the French torch song “Those Canaan Days”, a comical number led by Cody Jenkins. He piled on his character plate a hysterical French accent, suave facial expressions, wild comedic timing, and topped it off with a crystal clear, belting voice then served it all up for the audience to enjoy. Bon Appétit!

Two actors within this large company continued to stand out throughout the evening, Ben Larsen and Cody Jenkins.

Larson had no solo per se, but his strong characterization was both bright and dynamic with facial expressions that had me laughing in several scenes. His dancing technique was sharp, clean, and executed with boundless energy. As one of the taller actors on stage he had to land his choreography spot on, and he did. He also lifted his partner into the air during “One More Angel in Heaven” with no signs of wiggling or swaying while hoisting her up into the air. Larsen also had magnetic stage presence. Cody Jenkins not only portrayed Dan, he was also the Baker, the soloist for “Those Canaan Days”, and on the dance corps. The energy and commitment he has to all of these is remarkable. This guy worked his butt off on that stage. His exceptional and imposing talents were matched with his charismatic stage presence. He uses his acting tools to chisel out great characterizations encased in comedy, while his dancing technique was unparalleled, and his vocals are stellar. Suffice to say Ben Larsen and Cody Jenkins delivered scene stealing performances.

A round of applause also goes to Austin Bender as Potiphar which was campy, snobbish with a British accent, Shane Brooks as the Butler, and Jadie Phelps who was all Va-va-voom and legs as the sexy Mrs. Potiphar.

Matt Beutner portrayed the title role with a fantastic tenor voice that he displayed right out of the gate with “Any Dream Will do”. His facial expressions matched the emotion and tone of the number. Beutner’s stage presence filled the stage and beyond the footlights. Although his pace at times would lose its speed. His portrayal of Joseph was more laid back and internal. Webber always has power ballads in his scores. For this role he composed one big power ballad titled “Close Every Door”. It’s the only song in the score where there is just one actor on stage to sing. And it is the most well-known song from the show. Beutner starts off superbly with the ballad, nailing the notes and emotion. In the last part of the song it has Joseph hitting a very high tenor note that must explode with massive volume and the ability to sustain for several measures. It was quite puzzling that when it came to that big vocal moment, the entire company joined Beautner vocally from the wings. I could not tell if Beutner pulled back instead of belting, or that his voice was intended to blend with the rest of the company. Now this could be the artistic choice of the director and/or Musical Director. But this way of doing the song left me confused because sadly it took away from Beutner’s big vocal moment of the night. Nonetheless he gave a splendid performance who at curtain call received loud cheers and applause.

If you google the role of the Pharaoh you will see a common theme in 98% of them, which is they all look like the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. It could be the costume, wig, make-up, or even the shoes, but these elements create a vision of the King of Rock and Roll in Egypt times. I searched the internet and all of them gave the character description of the Pharaoh as ala Elvis Presley. I have seen all physical types portray this role- skinny, big, muscular, white, black, Hispanic, etc.

In past productions I have watched actors steer completely away from being Elvis. I have seen the Pharaoh as Frank Sinatra, Prince, Steven Tyler, Ricky Martin, and Jimi Hendrix. Just last season I saw a production of Joseph where the Pharaoh was portrayed as Donald Trump. I kid you not! And still every one of these actors sang in Presley’s voice. Some not only sang like Presley but even spoke and moved like him. Look I get it, I am all for originality and a whole new concept and interpretation of the role. But this requires you to also sing, move and talk in a totally different voice. It just doesn’t work if the outside is not Elvis, but the singing voice and mannerisms sound just like him.

Alas Brian Lawson falls into that trap in GTC’s version. Lawson gave a marvelous performance as the green ogre earlier this season in GTC’s Shrek. As the Pharaoh Lawson wears a gorgeous, richly detailed costume in reds, black, and golds. He wears an ornate Egyptian headdress. I noticed immediately that the costume did resemble Presley at all. I then thought that maybe the headdress was hiding the famous pompadour, but Lawson never took it off. That’s when I realized that this was to be a different interpretation of the King. But alas Lawson sang like Elvis and even spoke in that deep, Southern drawl that Elvis had. It just did not work. Lawson is a very talented actor and singer, but alas for Joseph he gave a paradoxical and confusing performance.

In the Playbill they are not listed individually as the wives, but the women of the company match up equally with the men in vocals, acting, and dancing. Special recognition must be given to the amazing girls who make up the female dance corps: Jadie Phelps, Amanda Brooks, Kristin Cox, Rebecca Ford, Kaitlyn Ann Howard, and Jennie Jermaine.

Attention all dancers and directors: There is a new girl in town named Brittany Jenkins who is a stupendous, out of this world choreographer. Her choreography for Joseph is out of this world stunning and totally original. I have never seen Joseph done like this in regards to dance. She uses jazz, hip hop, contemporary and lyric all dusted with eye popping formations and staging. It should be stated here that every single number was staged and choreographed, right down to the scene changes. For example, what she created for the number “Joseph’s Coat” is wow, and I mean WOW! You have got to see it is all I can say. Then there is the choreography for “Song of the King”. She has created intricate and precise movements that are so razor sharp and executed perfectly by the company. The megamix is pure dance club/Lady Gaga realness! One final example. At the beginning of the show as Joseph sings “Any Dream Will Do”, a lone male dancer (Cody Jenkins) enters from stage left in Joseph’s coat. Brittany Jenkins choreographed for this dancer a soothing, organic, modern dance piece. I thought, “That was very nice and new, but I don’t get it”. At the end of the show Joseph reprises this ballad, when he got to the lyric, “May I return to the beginning” Cody Jenkins returns to do that same solo piece again, and it all made sense and deeply moved me. That is the magic of theater. I was totally and completely blown away by Brittany Jenkins work. This version so impeccably choreographed that is both dazzling and momentous. DFW theater companies, I HIGHLY recommend you see this production and hire this girl, she’s the real deal!

You can’t have outstanding choreography without a director that matches that talent, and Domanick Anton Hubbard has an abundance of that. He has to stage and block a large cast among set pieces big and small that flies in or brought onto the stage. He succeeds with stellar success. Thanks to his staging you can see every single face, even far upstage. There is no rushing or confusion within the company. The scene changes whisk in silence that never break the flow of the piece. There is a plethora of glitz and pizzazz on that stage, but Hubbard makes sure that the heart and meaning of the piece gleams through. I have seen previous productions where it goes way too over the top, or garish cartoon like, or sheathed in so much sugary sweetness that would even make Willie Wonka scream, “It’s too sweet!” and smack an oompa loopa for good measure. Hubbard’s vision and direction avoids all that. He has amped up the energy and direct his actors to make their performances honest and always be in the moment. He has a talented cast before him to paint his vision. There are only a couple of missteps in the evening. For example both sides of the stage has a mini set of a room with books, pillows, and a chair for the narrators to read the story of Joseph to the children in the cast. It’s an opening scene I’ve seen in many past shows. Another hiccup was when Joseph was thrown in jail where he sings the ballad “Close Every Door.” The guards take off his chains before pushing him into the jail cell. But in the lyrics of the song he makes reference to the chains that bind him (which are gone). But when he is taken to see the Pharaoh the chains are back on. It left me befuddled.

Finally, the idea of throwing beach balls into the house during the megamix. I felt like I was at a football game. I couldn’t see the cast anymore because I was distracted by trying to avoid the balls whoosh by me or seeing the audience hitting or tossing the balls around. I actually saw in the seating section in front of me one of the beach balls smack an elderly lady in the face.

But for the majority of the piece Hubbard achieves glowing success. This is the first production I’ve seen that Hubbard has directed, and I must say he did a superlative job.

Kerri Pavelick’s scenic design was opulent and extravagant. The detail in the painting and colors was sublime. You can see painted on the moving stairs Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Another gorgeous set is Mrs. Potiphar’s chamber room which was elegant, down to the lavender sphinxes trimmed in sequins that lined the backless settee. For the Pharaoh scene Pavelick created an imposing gold and blue set with stairs on all three sides, placed in the center was a massive Sphinx head. Finally it was a great relief to see no friggin projections! Personally I’m bored of seeing designers relying on projections. Pavelick has none whatsoever within her designs. This is the kind of scenic design that I admire and respect so much.

Cameron Barrus’s lighting design matches up perfecting with the sets. His palette is an array of luxurious rich colors. He creates fine, detailed lighting that moves with the actor, or bathes the background with lighting that enhances the music and the singing. Barrus went full out with the megamix transforming the stage into a pulsating dance club! This is first rate work here by Barrus.

The costumes designed by Emily Warwick are chock full of so many colors and fabrics. Joseph’s coat was beautifully designed with vibrant colors with the collar and waist trimmed in gold sprinkled with rhinestones. The color palette for Pharaoh was a new look to see, which I thought was smashing. She used reds, golds, and blacks that really popped on stage. The brothers had an array of costumes that were a mixture of period and contemporary pieces. While the women had billowing skirts that flowed gracefully when they danced. Warwick’s costumes were sumptuous.

Granbury Theater Company has in the past years gone through some tough obstacles. This is the second production that I have seen under the current leadership of Artistic Director Micky Shearon. Suffice to say I am immensely impressed on what he, his staff, and Board of Directors have achieved. They go full out in what they put on their stage. Speaking with Shearon before the show, I found his mission and enthusiasm for this theater was like a breath of fresh artistic air.

GTC’s version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor achieved the impossible for me. They created a tremendously new vision and interpretation of this Webber hit that was stupendous. This is absolutely a must see- no make that a MUST SEE production. GTC’s Joseph..Dreamcoat is quite frankly, one of the Best Musicals of the year within the DFW area.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Granbury Theatre Company
Through September 10, 2017

For general information:
http://granburytheatrecompany.org/information/

For ticket prices, dates, etc.:
http://granburytheatrecompany.org/box-office-information/
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