Monday, March 19, 2012

Lacking Grandeur and Real Go Go Go: Newton Country Players Present "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Music by
Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by
Tim Rice

Michelle Leibowitz

Music Direction 
Karen Winkler

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are household names in musical theatre, each having written and created the most fantastical and wonderful shows.  Lloyd Webber has written music for some of the most recognizable shows, including "Evita" and "Phantom of the Opera." Rice has written lyrics for a few Disney movies, including "Aladdin" and "The Lion King." "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" was a collaboration of the two in the 70s, having worked on "Jesus Christ Superstar" together as well.  "Joseph" has been produced thousands of times since its inception by schools and theatre companies alike. Recently, Newton Country Players presented their production.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is based on a story from Genesis. It tells the tale of Joseph, who was the one of 12 sons of Jacob. Joseph had the ability to interpret dreams and soon discovers that he meant to rule over his brothers.  He is also given a coat of many colors as a sign of his father's favoritism. Jealous, his siblings sell him into slavery in Egypt. He must rely on this wits and abilities to make the best of the situation, which ends up taking him on a most unexpected journey.

The show has little to no spoken dialogue, therefore having music and singing driving the show. The score is catchy and fun, but Newton Country Players does not take advantage of this as much as they could. Granted, they have created a very energetic and good times on the surface, but its not nearly as grand as it could've been. The production fell short as it lacked many key elements to really make a memorable theatrical experience.  

Doug Hodge's Joseph never really stands out amongst the sizable cast.  Needing to really carry the show, his Joseph was not at all engaging, and he almost feels detached from everything that is going on around him. He truly lacked the charisma needed for the character.   The role of the Narrator had been split into three characters.  Lisa Huntington, Kadie Greenfield and Cathy Merlo have shared duties of the character, which didn't really translate that well to the stage.  Their performances were uneven, as some were stronger than others in some moments during the story.  It really took away from the show as it never created a lasting, much needed, powerful impression. There was a significant lack of chemistry between many of the main characters as well.  However, Joseph's 11 brothers did give a fun and enjoyable performance as a unit, especially during the big numbers, including "One More Angel In Heaven" and "Those Canaan Days". However, the rest of the cast, looked like they were just going through the motions.  A few did look like they were having fun, but it was not enough to create a strong production. It had potential to be more. 

Michelle Leibowitz had taken on the roles of director and choreographer, trying to balance both jobs.  As a director, she had made unusual choices, including spliting the aforementioned Narrator into three characters. This potentailly bold choice, again, didn't work as it was inconsistent and hurt the production. Her choreography choices were repetitive and lacked real originality.  Her staging was typical and she did manage to utilitize thespace appropriately. However, sometimes when something needed to be the focus of attention, ie the Phaorah, his placement raised the questions why he was not the main attraction and why was he not center stage?  She also utitlized five featured dancers, but their placement and usage was often distracting, taking away focus during scenes.  Karen Winkler's music direction was decent enough, but she and the orchestra would overpower the actors on the stage.  This was in conjunction with many sound issues that plagued the production as well.  This a rock musical, but there is no reason that the actors could be louder and the orchestra could pull back more.  Liz Peer's costumes were clever in their presentation, having everyone in collage-like tee-shirts as a base, but there was no consistency. Many characters were given lavish and fun costumes, whilst others had jeans and dissimilar footwear. It was distracting.  The set and lighting design lacked any real creativity. There were sandstone steps that were created, but the set almost looked unfinished. Granted, when Act 2 came along and the back pillars were switched from confusing stained glass windows to the Pharaoh's palace, the use of images from Boston and Massachusetts was very cute. However, the lighting design never went beyond lights on and lights off.  The story and big dance numbers were begging for different colors and gobos, but nothing was used and the whole look of the show was very flat.

There was so much potential for this show, but it never went beyond what was presented on stage.  With a few weak performances, low production value and confusing direction, this production fell short.  The story and score offers so much and all the pieces were there, but the show never brought anything powerful or memorable. Newton Country Player's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" fails to bring a potentially colorful and magical experience.

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