Wilmington's new Humanities and Fine Arts Center continued its lustrous opening season with an energized performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
This colorful new production – currently on a national tour – stood out for its choreography. This was created by Tony Award-winning Andy Blankenbuehler, who also directed the production. The performance was filled with movement, with most scenes animated by a dance tableau which gave the staging a good deal of dynamism. As performed by the company, the sequences were crisp and precise, sometimes exciting to watch.
With the dance numbers featured, props and scenery were secondary. Projections (Daniel Brodie) were used for a good deal of scenic backdrop. Lighting (Howell Binkley) was used liberally to create and shift mood. Props were often manipulable objects, such as the amusing cardboard sheep. The costumes (Jennifer Caprio) were quite varied – with some rapid changes – and were sometimes very colorful. Joseph's eleven brothers had ravishing costumes in the first act, each one distinct from the other. Joseph's coat was a beautiful sight.
The music was ably played by a small – rather heavily amplified – pit band. Andrew Lloyd Webber's music makes no attempt to reach emotional depths. Though there are entertaining style borrowings from Western, calypso, and more, the general character is persistently upbeat pop. The lead roles were sung (there is virtually no spoken dialogue) by Laura Helm as the Narrator and JC McCann as Joseph. McCann had an appealing voice. Helm did too, when the vocal line was softer and centered around the middle register. When the volume and pitch rose, her voice took on very much of an edge. The extensive singing of the chorus was successful, especially paired as it was with a high level of stage action.
A feature of this show is its humor. This was put over well both in the music and the dance. Scene 6 ("One More Angel in Heaven"), takes place after Joseph has been sold by his brothers. Their father Jacob is told that Joseph is dead. He retreats to his tent, after which, wild revelry – and wonderful dance – breaks out. However, Jacob re-emerges, and the abrupt shift to crocodile-tear mourning is very funny. So too is "Benjamin Calypso," which takes place as the brothers beg Joseph (still not recognized) to spare Benjamin's life. Kyle Freeman led this number as an entertaining Judah. In an earlier scene, Joe Ventricelli was equally entertaining as a rather over-the-top, Elvis-styled Pharaoh. An amusing latter-day touch was a character walking across the stage carrying an Apple laptop.
Joseph has enjoyed enduring popularity. It has light, catchy music and its primary theme – all of us can dream – appeals to most everyone. This production gave the show visual and choreographic energy that enhanced the piece and in fact were a highlight of their own. The rousing rock-style ending was received with overt enthusiasm by the nearly sold-out audience.