Artisan Center Theater
Directed by Dennis Canright
Produced by Dee Ann Blair
Stage Managed by Lindsay Hardisty
Assistant Stage Managed by Michael Williams
Musical Direction by Richard Gwozdz
Choreography by Eddie Floresca
Props by Tammie Phillips
Costumes by Nita and Jennifer Cadenhead
Set Design by Jason Leyva and Dennis Canright
Lighting Design by Branson White
Sound designed and operated by Tori Smith and Phyllis Huaute
CAST-NOTE: This show is double cast. Critic the cast which
Narrator- Jennifer Cadenhead
Joseph- Andrew Guzman
Jacob/Potiphar- James Lash
Reuben- Michael Alger
Simeon- David Cook
Levi- Zeke Branim
Naphtali/Pharaoh- Kyle Holt
Issachar/Butler- Colton Hess
Asher/ Baker- Daniel Curl
Zebulon- Robert Molina
Gad- Tevin Cates
Judah- Jeff Carr
Benjamin- David Rodriguez
Dan- David Phillips
Naphtali's Wife/Mrs. Potiphar- Jamie Ecklund
Levi's Wife- Tamera Miller
Reuben's Wife-Gina Gwozdz
Zebulon's Wife-Morgan Gerdes
Benjamin's Wife-Tyler Vaden
Dan's Wife- Bethany Stanelle
Asher's Wife- Kim Wray
Issachar's Wife- Kristina Bain
Judah's Wife- Tasia Robinson
Simeon's Wife- Libby Hawkins
Gad's Wife- Christina Fares
Reviewed Performance 10/10/2011
Reviewed by Laura L. Watson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Artisan Center Theater's current production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is a high energy night of impressive singing and dancing that excites the audience even if the cast is a little young to be believable.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's telling of the story of Joseph found in the Bible, entirely in song. Joseph is the 12th son of his father, Jacob, and is his father's favorite. Rather than working in the fields with his brothers, Joseph is taught to read and write and becomes a scholar. Joseph also has prophetic dreams and is able to interpret the dreams of others. Jacob gives Joseph a beautiful coat of many colors. Out of jealousy the brothers kidnap Joseph and ultimately sell him. They tell their father that he was killed, and Jacob is very distraught. Joseph is sold to Potiphar and quickly becomes a favored servant. However, Potiphar's wife also takes notice of Joseph, and when he rejects her seductive advances, she accuses him of trying to rape her. Joseph is sent to prison where he is eventually put in charge of all the prisoners.
When he interprets the dreams of some of the prisoners, word of his ability reaches Pharaoh who is having very disturbing recurrent dreams. Joseph tells the Pharaoh that after 7 years of prosperity there will be 7 years of famine for which they must prepare. Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph he makes him the most powerful man in all of Egypt under Pharaoh. When the famine reaches Joseph's family in Canaan, his brothers come to Egypt and ask for food. Joseph hides a valuable cup in the youngest brother's bag and then accuses them of theft. As the brothers beg for the brother's life, Joseph's desire for revenge evaporates, and he asks for their father to come. Jacob sees Joseph, and Joseph quickly announces that all is forgiven and shares his wealth with his newly reunited family.
Dennis Canright wrote in his director notes that JOSEPH was one of his favorite musicals because it was fun. Fun was definitely the overwhelming theme of the show. Canright was able to bring together a relatively young cast with a wide range of stage experience, and united them with design elements that helped the audience suspend their disbelief and join in the fun.
However, in those same notes, Canright highlighted the many facets of Joseph's story, and the emotions that fuel it, but the production seemed more focused on singing and dancing with energy than telling the story. And this led to any emotions that weren't joyful and happy but instead being just glossed over until the music picked up again. His notes concluded with a hope that the story would reach into the hearts and souls of audience members. Though it was an entertaining production, it was very two-dimensional, and the story got a bit lost in all the excitement. This was probably more the fault of the script, and Canright definitely did his best to draw out the story and its emotions in the actors as best he could.
The choreography by Eddie Floresca was energetic, full of variety and daring. I say daring because it required high level dancing for community theatre actors in a very small space. On this very crowded stage, one dancer's misstep could have been disastrous. But Floresca didn't settle for hand and arm choreography (a.k.a. show choir moves), but instead made sure that no one's feet ever stopped moving. I was exhausted just watching the show and do not fault the actors for being hot and sweaty, even gasping for breath, at the end. The Pharaoh's Elvis style number "Poor, Poor Pharaoh" highlighted Floresca's creative genius as he mixed dance styles of the 1950's with Egyptian poses that gave the audience one of the most tantalizing numbers of the evening.
However, the Tango in the "Those Canaan Days" was the show stopping dance number. It was listed as the Apache dance. According to Floresca, Apache (pronounced A-pas-shay) is a French street dance known for its brutality and passion. It was included by Webber and Rice to highlight the brother's grief and regret over what they had done to Joseph. David Phillips and Bethany Stanelle were bold, executed the difficult moves well, and were passionate. He partnered her well, and she twirled and was lifted without hesitation and in total control. I wanted to see this show again just to enjoy that particular number.
Musical Direction by Richard Gwozdz produced a chorus that sounded amazing together, hitting all the right notes.
Artisan is about a 100 seat community theater in the round, and even for a Monday night performance, they were nearly sold out. The set was designed by Artisan's technical director Jason Leyva and Dennis Canright. The north and south walls were painted with clouds on a blue sky. The east wall, the main focal point for entrances and exits, had Egyptian symbols and art, including the Eye of Ra, and stairs that came down the middle of the audience to the stage floor. The west wall was a series of mirrors designed like a bird in flight above the audience's heads. The floor had a large starburst design in tie-dye, but was rarely seen during the show as this was a very large cast in a small space.
Lighting Design by Branson White gave a rock concert effect with flashing lights and a very bright stage. However, during Joseph's heartfelt solo in prison, "Close Every Door", the lights were effectively dimmed and a simple single solo eerily lit Joseph as he prayed in his cell.
Sound techs Tori Smith and Phyllis Huaute had the challenging task of mixing all 25 actors, and blending their voices and balancing them with the music tracks. Opening weekend usually has several mistakes, such as mics not turning on in time, but there were only two or three sound mistakes that I noticed. However, MANY of the soloists' mics were too low and either the music or the chorus overpowered them. Unfortunately, this really isn't a musical, it's an opera. VERY little is ever spoken. Therefore, many of the soloists are telling the story of Joseph, and if the audience can't hear or understand them, then the story is lost on the audience.
The props for JOSEPH were purposefully designed by Tammie Phillips to be cartoonish, and were minimalist. In fact, the only props were in the songs describing Joseph's dreams of corn stalks and stars, and at the end when the brothers received bags of food. The show did not require a lot of props, and to add in any more would detract.
A show with a title referencing a specific costume needed to bring in an expert designer, and JOSEPH had that with Nita and Jennifer Cadenhead. In this production, simplicity was key as it was jam packed with multiple quick costume changes throughout the show for every actor. As the chorus moved from country and western Jews, to a modern day millionaire's minions, to Egyptian slaves, each character was distinct yet the chorus was unified as a whole. The narrator wore black pants with a gold sequence jacket, giving a very 70's feel to the production.
The narrator only played dress up with the chorus once, and I wanted to see her join in with the chorus more. Joseph's coat was a long overcoat with a rainbow of ribbons sewn together, and sequins and glitter stars on the collar. In spite of the title, the multicolor coat was not on stage very long before it was destroyed and never seen again. For much of the show, we saw Joseph in a simple white t-shirt and skirt, with a white sash around his waist, symbolic of both his innocence and poverty as he completed his journey. When Pharaoh promoted him, gold jewelry and a headpiece were added, but otherwise, he remained in the same costume throughout. Headpieces were a prominent component of the costume designs, from Pharaoh's "Elvis hair" to the Egyptian hair beads to the cowboy hats, rarely were heads left uncovered, and each completed the costume.
Andrew Guzman was the title character of Joseph. If there was such a thing as a perfect voice for a role, Guzman had it for Joseph. Webber and Rice were known for their wide musical range and power ballads, all of which Guzman delivered with ease and beauty. His young, boyish face lent well for the role, and he portrayed the feelings of loneliness, sadness, and despair. His arrogance as the favored son could have gone further, though, with a cockier posture and more confidence. I never saw any emotion as he planted the stolen cup on his youngest brother- no anger, jealousy, or revenge. The scene where he was sold fell a little flat. I needed the mixture of emotions to really pop-fear, anger, hurt, surprise, etc. Instead, they just melded into submissive apathy which read as shock only. Finally, Joseph had worked as a servant, then a slave, and then hard labor in prison. Guzman's arms and legs needed more muscle definition to fulfill this part of the character.
Narrating the show was Jennifer Cadenhead. She engaged the audience well, easily making eye contact and guiding us through the story. As everything was sung, she did her best when singing in the lower ranges, and she blended well with Guzman. However, her voice sounded strained and not as good in the higher ranges or in certain styles. At the beginning of the show, even though she was alone on the stage, she needed to command the audience, and then cast attention on the others as they entered. This would be easier for her to do if we could hear her over the music. She did not have a strong, belting voice, and those music levels simply must be lowered so we can hear her.
James Lash played double duty as Jacob, Joseph's father, and Potiphar, the rich man who buys Joseph. As Potiphar, Lash seemed to have trouble with his microphone being tangled in his long hair, but otherwise, he played the nonchalant millionaire mogul to a T. As Jacob, his opening solo was off-beat in the music but his later solos were delivered with finesse and the beauty that a trained tenor can bring to a song. His heartache when the brothers told him Joseph had died was genuine, but his joy at seeing Joseph alive at the end was the most emotionally believable and powerful moment in the show, such that many audience members went from laughing and clapping in the number before to quiet tears of joy as they embraced.
Playing Potiphar's wife was Jamie Ecklund. The role required a strong singer and dancer who could seduce the audience and almost seduce Joseph. As I watched her in this role (and in others as a member of the chorus), I thought she must be the star of her high school drill team, but she's just a little too young for this role. Low and behold, I read her bio and it turned out she's a Pharmacist! i.e. a grown up. Ecklund didn't miss a step in the very good choreography, but her girlish face and figure lacked a maturity that the role required. This scene was the most unbelievable, and I think it would aid in the telling of the story if we could believe that Joseph was put in a difficult position and stood up to temptation.
Naphtali and Pharaoh were both played by Kyle Holt. As Naphtali, one of Joseph's oldest brothers, he KNEW his choreography and delivered the dance steps with ease, like a seasoned Broadway dancer. His Elvis-ish Pharaoh was spot on vocally, but needed more pizzazz in the movements. He seemed tired, and some of the moves had lost their pop, especially in his upper body. This was another character that the music drowned out and the audience lost a lot of what he was saying.
A few of the chorus really stood out. Daniel Curl was the Baker whose dream Joseph interpreted while in prison, also brother Asher, and general chorus member. Curl was over the top with his high energy and exaggerated dance moves. Though he was dancing and singing from a place of pure joy, and that made me want to watch him, he needed to blend in with the rest of the chorus so that he could truly stand out in his solo as the Baker. Alongside Curl in many scenes was Colton Hess as Issachar and the Butler. Though he needed to hold his head up while dancing and be confident, he knew the moves, and had one of the strongest voices and most believable emotion of any in the chorus.
Tasia Robinson, another high school student, was a powerhouse singer that I clearly heard all the way to the back row when she was singing in front of me. It's mind boggling she didn't have any solos, but was a delight on stage and one to watch in the future. David Rodriguez was very small on the stage, playing the youngest brother of Joseph, and he tried to make up for it by being over the top and cheesy (think Barney and Friends) in the opening number. However, when he and Guzman locked eyes as the brothers begged for their youngest brother's life in "Benjamin Calypso", there was a genuinely tender moment between brothers that was spell binding and powerful in its simplicity. Rodriguez was another with a beautiful voice and talent to watch for in the years to come.
The unaccredited four guards neither sang nor danced but generally just stood there trying to look menacing to those under their control. Unfortunately these were four roles that should have gone to older actors who were seriously buff. These young men appeared to be either in middle school or early high school and did everything they could to fulfill the roles, but they were just too young.
Finally, as a whole, the chorus enjoyed what they were doing with passion. None of them ever looked bored or had low energy (and yes, I was watching, trying to catch someone letting their character down). Musically, they blended well and allowed the music to soar up and out to the audience, sending shivers down my spine.
Though the cast was young or at least appear young, giving the audience a feeling of seeing a fantastic high school production, Artisan Center Theater's current production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT was energetic, passionate, and above all fun.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Artisan Center Theater
418 E. Pipeline Road, Hurst, Texas 76053.
Runs through November 12th
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm
with Saturday matinees at 3:00 pm
Tickets are priced $12 - $16 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students and children 12 and under.
Tickets are available online at www.artisanct.com or by calling 817-284-1200.