‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ at The Suburban Players by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Such a dazzling coat of many colors! And the coat isn’t the only thing that’s colorful this time of year as The Suburban Players hosts their annual musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Directed by John Desmone, this lively Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice classic bounces along at an expedient pace, performed as an exciting one-act with lively musical numbers, incredibly vibrant costumes, and some exceptionally talented actors. A wonderful time is guaranteed for the whole family, and the theatre doubles as a dinner theatre with incredibly scrumptious homemade Greek food before the show.

- (l to r) Narrator (Lisa Pastella) Joseph (Jake Stuart), and Pharaoh (Mark Lloyd). Photo by Amanda Gunther.
– (l to r) Narrator (Lisa Pastella) Joseph (Jake Stuart), and Pharaoh (Mark Lloyd). Photo by Amanda Gunther.

Working the nuances of color into this production is always an impressive feat and the design team under John Desmone’s creative vision does this task a great justice. Scenic Designer Marc W. Smith gets larger than life vivaciously colored backdrops (courtesy of Kenmark, Inc.) to wow the audience into Canaan and Ancient Egypt. It’s Smith’s rotating stone pyramid bases, serving as steps and later a throne that really completed the illusion. The costumes, while provided Costume Holiday House, are carefully attended to and maintained by the Costume trio Tracy Bird, Ashley Sigmon, and Emma Sistek. The wives of Jacob in particular look rather stunning in their shimmery veils (especially once in Egypt) and the overall fabulous Egyptian-Elvis couture reserved for Pharaoh is a real knockout.

When mounting a big musical for a community project with a large cast it is easy to forget that the players come with varying levels of dancing ability. But Choreographer Deborah Goetzinger manages to find a series of dance routines that are simplistic enough for everyone while still looking visually appealing to the audience. Goetzinger’s simplistic routines enable nearly flawlessly synchronized executions, making the dance numbers look clean and vibrant. This is especially true during the boot-scootin’ shuffling hoe-down during “One More Angel in Heaven.” Goetzinger knows how to evenly space out the cast, keeping the stage from looking overcrowded while still making sure everyone can be seen for big dance numbers like “Go, Go, Go, Joseph.”

In a production like Joseph and… where everyone has seen it, done it, and knows it relatively well, it comes down to the nuances of framework and creative decisions from the director that keep the production fresh and lively. Director John Desmone has a great infusion of these quirky and clever moments that keeps the production moving on its toes. From the initial opening scene where the show’s narrator appears as a history teacher in a museum about to teach the story of Jacob to her class of students, to the outrageously hilarious interaction between Joseph and Pharaoh during “Song of the King” there are some truly inventive moments to be seen. Desmone keeps the integrity of the show whilst having these little moments, and ultimately it makes for a brilliant and amusing interpretation of the production.

The one thing that could use a bit of brushing up for this otherwise impressive performance is the ensemble singing. While they sing well, mostly in tune and on rhythm, for the number of performers the overall sound is not terribly strong. The women’s chorus is weaker in parts when they shadow and echo the narrator and occasionally the brothers lack that boost of volume behind their numbers, particularly in “One More Angel in Heaven.”

Leading that cowboy number, however, is the boisterous and comically driven Henry Reisinger Jr. playing brother Dan. Between his melodramatic sappy emotions and his thick southern drawl, Reisinger makes this number a hilarious hoot and kicks off the intense do-si-do hoe-down dancing later in the song. Other brothers worthy of note are Reuben (Gary Dieter) and Judah (Tyrell Stanley). Dieter takes the opportunity to ham up “Those Canaan Days” with vim and vigor, executing the moments of comic delight in this otherwise dreary ballad with exacting precision. His voice is strong and clear and carries the melody well for this song. Stanley, as the soulful island singer, leads the brothers in a calypso for “Benjamin’s Calypso” and even gets his groove on for the limbo routine.

Ladies and gentlemen, Pharaoh (Mark Lloyd) has entered the production. Lloyd is the sphinx’s meow when it comes to encompassing all the finely tuned aspects of this larger than life role. Decked out in true Egyptian fashion (and naturally cloaked in blue and gold) he rocks his way into the heart of the audience with pizzazz and panache. His deep vocals are electrifying for “Song of the King” and he truly sells his dilemma to everyone listening. It’s his subtle combination of Elvis-like movements and Egyptian ruler prowess that make this character a full blown dynamite style knockout. Lloyd even makes a trip down into the audience, so be sure to grip your chair or else you might just swoon!

The title character, Joseph (Jake Stuart) does a fair bit of singing so having someone with strong vocal support is essential for this production. Stuart has a crystal clear voice that easily carries some of the heavier numbers like “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do,” while having an uplifting and quirky personality for his exchanges early on with his brothers and later with Pharaoh during “Song of the King.” Stuart puts forth a great effort in this character, rewarding the audience with his story.

Shining in everyone’s spotlight is the guiding force of the story, The Narrator (Lisa Pastella). With a radiant voice, Pastella delivers every solo number with a passion for translating this story to the audience. Her warming smile and cleverly crafted moments of existing just beyond the show’s interior keep her as a lyrical and melodious conduit between the characters and the audience. From her rendition of the “Prologue” right through to “Jacob in Egypt” she delivers a sensational performance; a natural born talent in this highly demanding role.

So bring your silver coins, grab a coat of many colors if you have one, and head out to The Suburban Players, they’ve got a show they just can’t wait to show you, filled with razzle dazzle and excitement.

 Joseph (Jake Stuart) and the Ensemble. Photo by Amanda Gunther.
Joseph (Jake Stuart) and the Ensemble. Photo by Amanda Gunther.

Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through February 16, 2014 at The Suburban Players—performing at Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church – 2504 Cub Hill Road, in Parkville, MD. For tickets, call (410) 248-0582.