With Spring Break underway for many in surrounding Houston areas, the Theater Under the Stars offering of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT had no opening week shortage of eager young faces looking down to the stage from box seats high above on either side of the Hobby Center’s Sarofim Hall. Those youngsters no doubt shared my own puzzlement before the production got underway, as a shadowy projection lingered too long on mid-curtain, apparently designed to suggest a dream with its cloudy and ill-defined content looking a bit like some genie escaping from a bottle. The odd collection of sounds accompanying this vision perhaps suggested children playing, trolley cars, crying babies, passing trains or ghostly spirits, but who knew for sure?
When the action finally begins for this lighthearted musical (some call it an operetta as all words are sung, not spoken) it revolves around the familiar Biblical story of Joseph, his coat of many colors, his doting father, and the eleven jealous and conniving brothers who sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt while convincing their father that he is dead . With the cheerful lyrics of Tim Rice and the often catchy melodies of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show is anchored by the Narrator (pretty Diana DeGarmo) who sings clarifications of the action as the show progresses. As a well-known former contestant on American Idol, DeGarmo clearly has a crisp, articulate and powerful voice, but the challenges of an extended national tour may be straining that voice, which would seem somewhat shrill at times.
Co-starring in the role of Joseph is DeGarmo’s handsome husband, singer/songwriter Ace Young, another graduate of American Idol. His smooth voice worked well for numbers like “Close Every Door,” and the lovely and very melodic, “Any Dream Will Do.” Claire Camp plays the seductive wife of Joseph’s wealthy Egyptian slave master, Potiphar (a second role for Mr. Evans). With a bit of help from lusty Mrs. Potiphar, Director/Choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, made sure that Mr. Young played most of his subsequent scenes shirtless to display his impressive physique. Meanwhile, William Thomas Evans has great fun in the merry role of Joseph’s father, Jacob.
As to the wonderful cast portraying Joseph’s brothers, their lusty choral singing in numbers like, “Those Canaan Days,” was as terrific as their athletic execution of Mr. Blankenbuehler’s choreography. Paul Castree was a showstopper leading “Those Canaan Days” in his role as Simeon. Additional ensemble showstoppers included a real winner with the “Benjamin Calypso” (led by Max Kumangi in the role of Judah), and then a show highlight as good-looking Ryan Williams brings down the house as the Pharaoh, while doing a first-rate and hip-swiveling impression of Elvis for the “Song of the King.”
Often complementing the fine vocals of the brothers is a talented Female Ensemble that enriches many of the splashy numbers.
It must be said that this production has the overall look of a packaged show ready to be quickly broken down for truck shipment to the next city. Set pieces are minimal and much staging depends on foggy mists pierced by colored lasers etc. (lighting by Howell Binkley), some clever projections (designs by Daniel Brodie), and all accompanied by the non-pit orchestra consisting of only an overloud synthesizer, supplemented by some drums and guitars. Performers must struggle to compete with noise levels which, in a perfect world, would have been replaced by a fine full orchestra to more effectively reveal the richness of the score. The costumes (designer, Jennifer Caprio) are flashy fun, but not masterpieces. Think Halloween. But none of these shortcomings seemed to bother the crowd as it rose to its feet and clapped along during the curtain call finale of the jazzy “Joseph Megamix,” a number that reprised many of the show’s tunes in Las Vegas showroom fashion.
JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT continues through March 29th at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, Tuesday thru Thursday & Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm (dark on Monday), Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets visit the website at www.TUTS.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).