Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wetumpka Depot: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

The Wetumpka Depot Players have done it again...taken a potentially out-moded Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and turned it into a fast-paced, energetic, tongue-(firmly)-in cheek, and joyously relevant hour and a half romp that is receiving well deserved spontaneous ovations in its sold-out run.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat shows evidence of its 1960s roots by lampooning several polular song styles of its day. Calypso, rockabilly, go-go, country, and French cabaret songs are among those featured either in solo or production numbers whose clever lyrics and spot-on uninhibited delivery by director Kristy Meanor's inventive ensemble.

This musical is based on the Bible story of Joseph, the favorite of Jacob's twelve sons who is sold into slavery by his siblings, comes to respect and prosperity in Pharoah Rameses' Egypt by interpreting dreams & saving the country, and ultimately rescues his family from starvation in Israel and reunites with them in the spirit of forgiveness and reconcilliation. (Some valuable lessons here without heavy handed moralizing by the actors, or by Narrator [Kim Mason] who often engages in the action she describes.)

Built into the text are anachronistic dialogue and costume choices that the Depot capitalizes on in both overt and subtle choices that -- with so much for audiences to take in from its 35-member ensemble -- are integrated seamlessly into the plot, props, and character choices. -- Look for references to Wheaties, Time magazine, "The Wetumpka Herald", and see eyeglasses, gym shoes, a reverb microphone, cigarettes & French berets, cowboy hats & boots, spike-heeled shoes & miniskirts, some contemporary jewelry, and "smart phones", let alone Elvis & his screaming/swooning groupies, and a bespectacled business tycoon. -- Oh yes, there's also a stunning "coat of many colors"

It is easy to see why eleven of the brothers are jealous of Joseph [Jonathan Conner]. He not only gets special regard from old Jacob [a reliable Bill Nowell] and a regal coat that sets him apart, this Joseph is a bit of a narcissist whose dreams tell him he deserves special distinction; and he lords it over them. Perhaps this Joseph needs to be taken down a peg or two, but the vile treatment doled out by his brothers must come full circle by the end.

Music Director Marilyn Swears and her pit orchestra keep the action moving and switch musical styles effortlessly, adding distinct sound effects to the various forms, and adjusting volume & pace to the actors' delivery and audience responses.

Zebulun [David Brown] leads the Country Western "One More Angel in Heaven" with an earnest appeal in bemoaning Joseph's reported demise; Gad's [David Rowland] effete treatment of the cabaret number "Those Canaan Days" is a show stopper; Isachar [Gabriel Santos] delivers "Benjamin Calypso" with athletic energy; and Pharoah [Matthew Walter] does an unabashed star turn as Elvis in "Song of the King" (pun intended).

There is so much to take in, but the script and score are definitely focussed on Joseph. Mr. Conner has made his mark in other Depot productions like Big River and Second Samuel, and continues to impress in this role. -- With his engaging baritone bookmarking the beginning & ending of the play with "Any Dream Will Do", with confident stage presence and a winning persona -- the guy can "mug" or be a "straight man", invest credibly in the complexity of his character & draw us into Joseph's plight, and play on audience sympathies with a sly wink & endearing smile -- he makes us care about him because he is so  much like us: sometimes confused, sometimes self-centered, sometimes gragarious, sometimes proud, but always optimistic & trusting of things greater than himself.