‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ at First Act at Act Two@Levine by Eric Denver

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In the small intimate confines of the blackbox theater within the Strathmore complex, Saturday afternoon was a spectacular day for Chapter 39 of Genesis. First Act, a new program of Act Two @ Levine, presented a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring DC Metro area elementary and middle school students. The theater was packed with kids and adults who had come to revisit Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice’s sung-through Biblical musical.

Ari Goodfriend (Joseph) and cast members. Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.
Ari Goodfriend (Joseph) and cast members. Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

Having first been performed in 1968 as a 15-minute concept piece by students in a London school setting, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was returning to its roots in First Act’s inaugural season, and was showcasing a troop of 19 actors and singers. The young and talented cast provided top-notch entertainment. The show took place as all the young actors were gathered together in a sleep-over birthday party, while simultaneously acting out the musical. Occasionally when the mother checked in to determine if all was going well, the actors switched from the action of the play to snoring away fast asleep, as not to get caught.

Kevin Kuchar wore many hats today – director, set, lighting, sound, and costume designer all rolled into one – and his colorful and clever set design was superb. Hundreds of multi-colored balloons were on either side of the large stage, a huge bed was center stage where most of the action took place. Six white tapestries hung above the stage from the ceiling and the multi-colored lighting played off them. There were strings of colored ribbons from the base of the stage on a 45 degree angle arising on each side in a maypole formation, while these ribbons fluttered in colorful shadows on the main tapestry whose canopy hung stage center. Stage right, there was a huge chest labeled with ‘Jo’ (short for Joseph) where props for the musical were withdrawn as necessary. All the actors were dressed in robes and pajamas provided by Costume Designer and a ‘Happy Birthday’ banner was strung across the top of the bed.

Simon Diesenhaus (The Narrator). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.
Simon Diesenhaus (The Narrator). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

The Narrator, primarily responsible for telling the story in song, was played by 13 year-old Simon Diesenhaus, who displayed excellent acting and vocal skills. His performance also helped move the plot along and to maintain the quick pacing of the show. Simon has added Joseph… to the list of other musicals he has appeared in, including Ragtime, Seussical, Oliver, Nine, Fiddler on the Roof, and Pippin.

Ari Goodfriend’s portrayal of Joseph was filled with heart and emotion and his vocal range was extremely impressive.You couldn’t have asked more from this other 13 year-old actor, who played his role with the confidence and skills of a veteran actor. Like Simon, Ari  has appeared in several musicals, including Blood Brothers, Jekyll and Hyde, Seussical, Jr., Once Upon a Mattress, and Once on This Island, Jr. 

Ryan George was a triple threat playing Pharaoh, Potiphar, and Jacob. In a nice touch while playing the role of Pharaoh, he wore a Superman shirt in place of his pajama top. The eleven remaining brothers were admirably performed by both young men and women: Chieko Wong, Ella Douglas, Jennie Yu, Jessica Solomon, Katie Calingaert, Katie Williams, Molly Herson, Olivia DeCroix, Olivia Loomis, Rachel Sita, Sydne’ Marie Chesson. Jessica Solomon and Olivia DeCroix also performed solos in “Benjamin Calypso.” The remaining ensemble members ably assisted with their fine singing and dancing.

Numerous times throughout the show Kevin Kuchar’s choreography added so much joy and humor. One of my favorite highlights was the dance steps the brothers utilized in “One More Angel in Heaven,” as they all danced on top of a bed.

Keyboardist Keith Tittermary did a yeoman’s job in performing and musical directing Daniel Riggs on drums, Jon Steele on bass, and Chris McGahey on guitar. Each of these fine musicians provided a perfect balance with the singers.

Special kudos to Artistic Director and Director Kevin Kuchar who continues to inspire local young actors of all ages who are considering theatre as a career.

The cast of First Act's 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.
The cast of First Act’s ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

This is the first of two musicals that First Act is performing this year, so if you missed Joseph…, mark your calendars now for Little Shop of Horrors, which is being performed  on April 25-27, 2014 at Round House Theatre, in Silver Spring, MD.

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at First Act at Act Two @Levine played on January 9-12, 2014 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in Rockville, MD. For more information on First Act and Act Two@ Levine, visit Levine Music’s website.

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