“May I return to the beginning?” runs a beloved lyric to the song “Any Dream Will Do” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now back for the summer at Toby’s — The Dinner Theatre of Columbia.
Both the song and the show occupy signature status in the career of Artistic Director Toby Orenstein, founder of Toby’s Dinner Theatre. So when it came time to mark the beginnings of her roots in Columbia 45 years ago, clearly any other show would not do.
This is the musical that touches dreamers of all ages with its lighthearted take on the Biblical story of Joseph, a gifted interpreter of dreams. The British show first brought the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) to world attention in the early 1970s, though their full-length stage version would not reach Broadway until 1982.
Displaying a breezy, tongue-in-cheek irreverence for the narrative from Genesis of Joseph and his eleven jealous brothers, it rips through song genres with relish while serving up anachronisms by the bushel. Whatever licenses it takes, theater audiences love it, and one loses count of exactly how many times (could it be four?) that it has been seen at Toby’s Dinner Theatre since the initial staging back in 1984.
For this anniversary year, Director-Choreographer Mark Minnick has joined with Director Orenstein to mount the most elaborate revival of the piece to date. You will not likely find any stage anywhere crowded with more certified stars and professional talent than you will see here.
Five separate female performers will take on the important lead role of the Narrator over the course of the 11-week run. All have a shared history with this show at Toby’s and are returning from professional stages across the country to take part in the revival.
Performing on press night and remaining for the next several days is Caroline Bowman. Bowman, celebrated for her lead performances on Broadway in Kinky Boots and Wicked, makes for an immensely appealing and assured musical guide to the score’s riches.
Providing the perfect touches of humor and confidence to the opening “Prelude,” Bowman keeps the ball rolling through the story’s progressively darker developments. She employs an unerring musicality and bearing, while holding plenty of plaintive emotionalism in reserve for the show’s more explosive dramatic highs.
The rest of the run will be in good hands, as well. Following Bowman as Narrator will be Janine Sunday, a four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee; Coby Kay Callahan, a favorite at Toby’s for her work in Ragtime, Show Boat, and Shrek: The Musical; Cathy Mundy, another Toby’s veteran who won a Hayes Award nomination in the 1997 staging of Joseph; and Marykate Brouillet, a hit with critics for leading roles in The Addams Family and Peter Pan.
A wonderful Toby’s newcomer named Wood Van Meter raises the character appeal of the victimized Joseph a notch or two. He grows in the course of the evening from lanky juvenile to full-fledged leading man. Along the way he shows himself in full control of such melodic balladry as “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do.”
With another eleven brothers and a father also in Joseph’s family, this show requires an unusually large number of trained male singer/dancers. Toby’s is indeed rich in this area and is able to draw from its wealth of recent lead actors.
Russell Sunday, just released from his spell as “The Beast,” brings a different sort of magic to the part of brother Reuben. At one point he crams that big booming voice of his into the faux-French mindset of “Those Canaan Nights” to delightful result.
David James and Jeffrey Shankle, two past Toby’s Helen Hayes Award winners, contribute their charisma to elevate the modest roles of Simeon and Issachar, respectively, then return later as the imprisoned Butler and Baker.
Gregory Banks as Levi and DeCarlo Raspberry as Nathal shine in the mock-cowboy trail ditty “One More Angel in Heaven” and “Joseph All the Time.” Banks also thrills with a display of awesomely authoritative mid-air flips.
David Jennings was such a memorable star as Gaston at Toby’s that it’s no surprise to see him pulling double duty here as both brother Asher and the Elvis-like Pharaoh. He is a delight in both roles, though backing off some from that hand-mike might make his lyrics more decipherable to the audience.
Anwar Thomas, Justin Calhoun, Brandon Bedore, AJ Whittenberger, and Joey Ellinghaus are all in first-rate shape for the rousing choral harmonies and other athletic dance moves performed by this band of brothers.
Two other veteran character actors, Andrew Horn and David Bosley-Reynolds are at their reliable best as, respectively, father Jacob and Potiphar, the Egyptian merchant.
Besides Caroline Bowman, the females on stage at Toby’s are more than suited for their multiple turns as wives, Angels, and other women of Egypt. These include such wonderful talents as Heather Beck, Rebecca Vanover, Nia Savoy, Rachel Kemp, Tina Marie DeSimone, and Kaila Friedman.
Set and Lighting Designer David A. Hopkins and Sound Designer Corey Brown keep the focus on the action and the multitude of singers through a fluid series of changing stage areas.
Costume Designer Lawrence B. Munsey again proves himself a master at eliciting whimsy and wonder on a fixed budget.
The musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings and his live pit orchestra provide dynamic and rich accompaniment to one of the theater’s most demanding all-singing, all-dancing spectacles.
Mark Minnick’s high-kicking choreography is outstanding, showing real mastery in those big production numbers like “Benjamin Calypso” and “Go, Go, Go, Joseph!” where dozens of dancers jump in on the exuberant action.
The spirit of professional, all-stops-out abandon makes Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Toby’s Dinner Theatre a guaranteed head-bobbing, foot-tapping delight for musical theater fans. Doff those summer blahs and kick off those sandals for a few hours and “Go, Go, Go” catch this show while you can.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through August 27, 2017, at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. Reservations are required at (301) 596-6161, (410) 730-8311 or 800-88TOBYS, or purchase them through Ticketmaster.