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It was one of the most unique start-offs I have ever encountered in theater, but I can’t describe it without some background.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” tells the story of 12 biblical brothers, 11 of which are jealous of the favorite son, Joseph. When their father Jacob gives Joseph a richly colored coat, (the irresistible song goes: That coat is red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and grey and purple and white and pink and orange and blue.) the brothers can no longer contain their resentfulness.
Exacting a scheme to get rid of him, the brothers sell him off to some Egyptians as a slave. Filled with clever lyrics, memorable songs and a variety of zany settings (the 1950s, a dude ranch, a Parisian bistro), “Joseph” tells the tale of a young boy’s dream in the setting of a sort of a magical pop anthology — covering rap, doo-wop, disco and country among others.
“Joseph,” one of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s first musicals, (it was written for a church boy’s choir) features a female narrator who not only tells the story to the audience, but also to an on-stage audience (usually comprised of children.)
The show was presented delightfully by Broadway San Diego (BSD) last season and, as the show often does, had an on-stage stage children’s choir to whom the narrator tells the story. (The filmed “Great Performances” version with Donny Osmond starts off in a schoolroom, for example.)
With limited stage space and a small cast to work with, Lamb’s Players Theatre’s ingenuity and innovation was put to the test to present a show that features 12 brothers and their 12 wives. Here’s how they did it successfully (without giving away too many spoilers):
2. A kick-butt narrator. Deborah Gilmour Smyth blew the cute and capable “American Idol” star, who narrated for BSD’s show last season, out of the water. This is a role that demands clear enunciation and enough volume so that audiences can understand the elaborate story being told. Gilmour Smyth’s portrayal was like the glue that holds a book’s spine in place. Her interludes between “chapters” kept everything flowing nicely.
3. Put the band where you can see ’em. The excellent four-piece band was housed on a cylinder-shaped platform set a step lower than the rest of the stage. “Joseph” boasts a large catalogue of musical styles: calypso, rap, country and everything in-between. Cleverly giving the musicians on-stage prominence makes it easier for the enthusiastic audience to clap along.
4. Sharp choreography. Colleen Kollar’s skilled choreography was efficient in use of space without seeming basic or simple. Catchy moves, cute numbers.
One of the best things about Lamb’s Players Theatre: the people. You can count on their productions to be well-cast and brimming with originality and “Joseph” perfectly illustrates this point. Capturing hearts as the more submissive Jack in the Beanstalk in last season’s production of “Into the Woods,” Spencer Moses makes an affable, affecting burden-laden Joseph. Ashamed, at first, of his prescient dreams, Joseph learns to use them to help others and learns self-worth in the process. Moses’ quirky charm lends itself beautifully to the role.
Starting off the show with a punch of personality and attitude, Keith Jefferson portrayed the kindly father of Joseph and sons with aplomb. His disco/rap version of Potiphar both oozed fun and was the definition of smooth. As Potiphar’s wife, diminutive ensemble-member Joy Yandell, belted out her provocative song with a wonderfully powerful and soulful voice.
One of the highlights of “Joseph” is the appearance of Elvis-as-Pharaoh and LPT regular Lance Arthur Smith does not disappoint. (Prior to the show, I was trying to guess who would play Pharaoh and I guessed either him or Doren Elias.) Smith struts, he sings and he swaggers — a total crowd pleaser.
Everyone that I’ve already mentioned (excepting Joseph and the narrator) doubles as ensemble. But at LPT, ensemble members are just as important as main characters. Season Duffy, Jon Lorenz and Steve Limones rounded out the group, giving flair and style to their roles; be it one of Jacob’s sons or their wives or a lovestruck Elvis/Pharaoh fan. As for the twist in the show’s opening, you’ll just have to see it to see how Lamb’s Players put their own individual, ingenious spin on “Joseph.”