A Truly Amazing “Joseph” from Class Act

One of the nice things about being a theater critic is the fact that every now and then, your usual routine is broken when something truly remarkable comes along. That was the case this past week as Class Act Productions unveiled its summer masterpiece, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor ® Dreamcoat.” Trust me, if this show had opened in the Theatre District of nearby Houston, it would have played to sold-out crowds and been the talk of the town! If you missed it, you missed another jewel in the crown of amazing Class Act achievements.

Even before the performance began, there was an excited buzz among the large audience of friends, family, and in-the-know theatergoers from the area. I had perhaps the most excited member of the audience seated beside me in the person of a little third-grader named Kasha. Appropriately dressed in a rainbow dress and matching shoes, she had come all the way from San Antonio to see her cousin, Kelley Peters, in this musical version of the Biblical tale of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Kasha would not be disappointed as Joseph’s adventures took him from pride to betrayal, and from slavery to the court of Pharaoh and ultimate redemption.

Let us begin with mention of the extraordinarily beautiful set design and special effects of Class Act veteran, Frank “F.B.” Kern. His ancient Egyptian temple, surrounded by tropical plants and rising mist, was much like the authentic one on view in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kern, who also served skillfully as the show’s Technical Director, conceived a creative design that was capped as a pyramid with the orchestra sitting in full view, high atop the temple. The talented Mr. Kern, one of several North Carolina School of the Arts students involved in the production, (including the show’s star, Lance Kramer, and Stage Manager, Brandon Kahn) later extended my guest and me the courtesy of viewing the inner workings of the intricate set during a backstage tour.

Further enhancements of the production were the elaborate hieroglyphic artwork of Scenic Artist, Barbara Stoker, the perfect sound levels from Sound Engineer, Alan Haigood, the exquisitely colorful lighting designs of gifted New Yorker, Brian Messina (also a student at North Carolina School of the Arts), and the absolutely beautiful costume designs of Lyndell Middleton, Cynthia Kendall, and Sandy Braddock. (Dig the electric-blue and lavender lamé headdresses on those in Pharaoh’s court!)

Crowning all of these achievements was the beautiful music itself, perfectly rendered in the capable hands of the show’s brilliant Music Director / Conductor, Robert Hunt, and his fine “Joseph” Orchestra. The resulting choral work, from the show’s Ensemble singers and sweet Children’s Chorus, was sheer perfection. And there was further perfection in the lovely voice of Mary Margaret Mathis in the challenging role of the Narrator who sings us through the story of Joseph, while always bringing the events into clearer focus.

Speaking of Joseph, what a joyful performance we have from the many-talented Mr. Kramer. Beaming from ear to ear, he very much owns the stage for the evening; and the joy he projects lifts everyone in cast and audience to a “happiness high.” Modeling his coat of many colors with unapologetic pride and arrogance, Joseph sings, “I am handsome, I am smart, I’m a walking work of art!” Kramer’s riotous characterization reminded me of Fonzie on the old T.V. series, “Happy Days.” You just have to smile while watching him. The exquisite full chorus beautifully supported his strong entrance with “Any Dream Will Do.” And Kramer’s singing voice is reaching new heights with numbers like his passionate and thrilling, “Close Every Door.” Then there was the added fun of his hilariously jealous brothers. (Singing lyrics like “Being also-rans doesn’t make us Joseph fans!”) What a team they are, in perfect voice, and with perfect comic timing! They were winners every time they came on stage. Jason Smith brings still more laughs in the role of the boys’ father, Jacob.

There were lovely melodic tunes like “One More Angel in Heaven,” which had Western flair and real hoedown dancing from the show’s gifted Choreographer, Carolyn Simpson of Boni’s Dance and Performing Arts Studio.  The great variety of her choreography lifted the show to new heights throughout the performance. When we get our first look at Pharaoh Potiphar’s palace, Miss Simpson’s “red-hot mama” dance routines (with the girls in seductive black feather boas) is a scream. The show’s “Go-Go” number was another triumph for her artistry and the talented cast of young dancers.

Speaking of Pharaoh, Andrew McKinney was a scene-stealing knockout as Potiphar, while Carly Thurman did an amusing song-and-dance turn as Mrs. Potiphar. McKinney’s Act II impression of Elvis during his “Song of the King,” was the comic high point of the night. It had exuberant choreography, and the audience was roaring with laughter. Other fun-filled highlights of Act II included the brothers’ intoxicated drinking song, “Those Canaan Days,” and the wonderful singing and conga line dancing of the Calypso number.

By show’s end, everyone in the theater was smiling. The stage full of proud and smiling youngsters embodied a special innocence that could only come from hardworking kids who had done their very best, but were sweetly unaware they had been part of a theatrical miracle. I am not sure how many smiles Class Act founders, Director Keith Brumfield, and Asst. Director Kathryn Goodfellow, have brought into this world through the years. Only God knows for sure, and He’s not telling. But somehow, I think He’s probably smiling, too.

(The Villager    8.14.03)

(The Courier    8.17.03)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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