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Carnegie’s “Joseph” Paints the Night Fantastic

Review by Doug Iden of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”: Carnegie

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” coated The Carnegie stage with many colors on opening night of the musical, based upon the well-known Biblical story.  Originally performed as a 20-minute High School concert written by then teenagers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the show evolved first as a 40 minute one-act play and, ultimately, as a full-blown musical.

The show opens with a classroom of youngsters (Charlie Lindeman, Elliot Martin, Kelly Morgan, Jackson Schabell, Athena Updike and Kit Valentine) listening to the story of Joseph by the Narrator (Tia Seay) in the “Prologue”.  Joseph (Frankie Chuter) appears singing “Any Dream Will Do” joined by the children’s chorus which sets the positive tone of the show. Chuter is very effective as Joseph with a good stage presence and an excellent voice.  Seay has a good soprano voice in the critical role of the Narrator who tells the story.  

Then, the curtain opens and we meet Joseph’s father Jacob (Sean Mette) and his brothers (Kyle Taylor, Kate Stark, Ashley Morton, Mattison Sullivan, Emma Moss, Caleb Redslob, Chloe Price, Cian Steele, Maddie Vaughn and Geoffrey Hill) in the song “Jacob and Son”.  The brother’s jealousy boils over when Jacob presents Joseph with a “coat of many colors”.  Incensed about the favoritism, the brothers plot to avenge themselves.  We also learn about Joseph’s propensity for dream interpretation in “Joseph’s Dreams”.  However, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt and assume they will never see him again.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar (Redslob) and is earning his respect but Mrs. Potiphar (Kate Stark) in a very slinky dance tries to seduce him which lands Joseph in jail.  In one of the best songs in the score, Joseph bemoans his imprisonment with the impassioned “Close Every Door”.   But his ability to interpret dreams brings him to the attention of the Pharaoh and he soonrises to prominence in Egypt.  

Interwoven throughout the show as singers and dancers are the Teen Ensemble comprised of Sylas Craven, Fiona Blanchet, Chloe Esmeier, Jaden Martin, Madeline Moore, Sara Moore and Sam Olt.

Part of the charm of the show is the variety of song genres which are complemented by matching dancing routines choreographed by Director Maggie Perrino.  The first genre is Country and Western with the song “One More Angel in Heaven” accompanied by square dancing and western costumes with cowboy hats.  The first act ends with “Go, Go, Go Joseph” which is a celebration of Joseph’s release from jail with a full company Go Go (disco) dance routine.  There is even an homage to Bob Fosse with a routine using derby hats and featuring eccentric Fosse choreography.

In the second act, Joseph’s brothers are feeling sorry for themselves in the Parisian Bistro song “Those Canaan Days” followed by a Caribbean song with appropriate dancing to the melody “Benjamin’s Calypso”.  

But the song and the performance that steals the show is the Pharaoh, portrayed by Sean Mette, as Elvis Presley in the rock and roll version of “Song of the King”.  Matte impersonates Elvis well complete with outrageous costume and stereotypical Elvis movements.  The large audience, comprised of many children, were surprised and delighted by the Elvis routine.  

Overall, this is a joyous, exuberant show with, seemingly, all participants thoroughly enjoying their performances.  However, there are many serious themes underlying the frivolity including jealousy, slavery, ambition, power, class differential and despair.

The theme of the “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is accentuated throughout the show by very colorful costuming, lighting, set design and some clever gimmicks.   The costumes, designed by Cheyenne Harnberg, are an eclectic combination of modern school dress complete with ubiquitous backpacks and a assortment of robes and shawls reminiscent of ancient middle eastern garb.  The highlight is the Coat of Many Colors which is destroyed in the first act but continually reappears as colorful ribbons of fabric used during the dances.  There are also a variety of wigs which add to the humorous dress.

Also adding to the “color” theme is the first act finale which features flashing hula hoops with other cast members wearing blinking lights and a revolving disco light designed by Larry Csernik.

The set design by Doug Stock is simple but effective and evokes the ancient society with a series of Egyptian figures and cartouches painted onto the stage façade.  Another interesting touch are two Egyptian statues of Pharaohs which appear in the second act.  

So, don your most colorful garb and drive your chariot to The Carnegie Theater to see “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” playing through January 26.