Debating if you should see ‘Joseph’? Go, go, go, go!
If you have a pulse and are into musical theater, chances are you’ve seen the ever-popular “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” not once but multiple times. It gets done a lot. The reason is obvious: It’s tuneful, warm-hearted, silly, low-tech, has a wide range of musical styles, features an enormous cast (you can’t skimp on Jacob’s 12 sons) and is based on a Biblical story so far removed from our contemporary lives that you’d have to try really hard to find anything at which to be offended.
Even though I’m a repeat (and I mean repeat) viewer, I never put up a fuss when it’s time to see another production of “Joseph.” Particularly one by Good Company Players. As I’ve written at length in the past, this is the perfect-sized show for the intimate space of Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Productions of “Joseph” in bigger theaters tend to get too show-biz glitzy as producers and directors try to pump up the fun but slight material. This show doesn’t need elaborate stagecraft and expensive moving scenery to impress an audience. The most important thing is the quality of the singing and acting.
Which the latest “Joseph” has in abundance.
Is it my favorite “Joseph” ever? It could be. I’m tempted greatly by my recollection of the 1996 Good Company version directed by Fred Bologna, whose “Go Go Go Joseph” first-act finale is probably my most prized “Joseph” memory. (The cheerleader moves in that number had a giddy verve and precision that remain with me to this day, though I also freely acknowledge that the mists of nostalgia might have something to do with it. Seeing a choreographed bit like that the first time is always the best.) That said, I like this current “Joseph” a lot as well. Here are 5 Favorite Things I offer from the show:
The opening. I pretty much know within the first few notes if “Joseph” is going to take off. Hearing Heather Price (as the narrator) and Tim Smith (as Joseph) sing their first clear, beautiful notes set the tone for the rest of the show. Price brings warmth and resonance to her cheery role, and while a few of the notes are a bit high for her range, her vocals have a delicate, creamy sound. I’m accustomed by now to Smith wowing with his vibrant tenor voice, and he’s wonderful here as Joseph, ranging from plaintive (“Close Every Door”) to irascible (“Who’s the Thief?”)
The contemporary references. I’ll try not to give too many of them away, but let’s just say that if you’re a Prime Member, you can get next-day delivery to Canaan. The sketch-comedy structure of the show lends itself to little bits of present-day humor. Director Robert Sanchez has sprinkled a wide variety of fun stuff through the show, eliciting lots of chuckles. Costume designer Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed and set designer David Pierce get to goof off a little, too with some sly 21st century allusions. (The vultures. You gotta love the vultures.)
The choreography and lighting design. Steve Souza’s dance moves are a treat. (See below.) Andrea Henrickson takes us between broad comedy and tender moments with her lights.
Brady Crenshaw’s beard. I don’t know why it cracked me up so much. It’s just so, well, Old Testament — a big, scratchy looking thing so prominent it could qualify for its own housing allowance. In a larger sense, this is a show in which the hard-working ensemble members get brilliant little chances to shine, from the charming “dance-off” between Crenshaw (who plays Dan, one of Joseph’s brothers) and Souza (who also plays Reuben) to the always-on presence of London Garcia (one of the wives), who impressed me so much as Kitty in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” (She brings that same electric energy to this show.) The ensemble members have a torrent of costume changes and are on stage throughout much of the show, but they’re much more than just filler. They’re the ones who really sell it to the audience.
Bill Johnson as Pharaoh. He milks every moment as the Big Guy. (If you’re one of the few who doesn’t know the joke going in, I actually envy your opportunity to experience it for the first time.) Johnson’s vocals and stage presence are golden. He’s a wonderful recent addition to the Fresno theater scene.
Finally, as a bonus, I want to throw in the cheerleaders. Yes, they’re in “Go, Go, Go Joseph” this time as well, complete with “J” sweatshirts and red baseball caps. And I still love them. Genesis can always use a few more pompons.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” through July 15, Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave. Tickets are $32 (show only) to $60 (with dinner).
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