Review: Vibrant 'Joseph' comes alive at The Croswell
Courtesy of The Croswell Oprea House/Lad Strayer
A timeless tale that could be told with a variety of interpretations and ingenuity, Andrew Lloyd’s Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” comes alive with vibrant, plentiful energy in The Croswell’s latest take on the popular show. Maybe it’s the infectious comradery the cast share among themselves or their enrichment of the local community with a somber, family friendly tale of redemption and hope; whatever the prognosis, the entire ensemble and their commitment to the material, which, from a script perspective isn’t the smoothest written musical, will elevate your afternoon or evening of this Old Testament inspired journey.
Regardless if you think he’s a genius or not, Webber can pen a catchy tune, and despite questionable narrative and lyrical choices, his shows remain cultural touchstones and usually make buckets of cash (yes, even “Cats”). Those who worship “Joseph” and watch the Donny Osmond version on repeat will find plenty to love and embrace in The Croswell’s newest iteration, which was directed (and choreographed) with calculated precision by Domonique Clover, his directorial debut for the community theatre.
Under the music and vocal direction of Raymond Novak and Besty Lackey, who make sure the performers of all ages offer an impressive performance, (including an exceptional youth choir who you’re glad to see standing next to the heavy hitters), the range is powerful. Occasional sound hiccups and awkward mixing aside, the dynamic among the core group of performers are a highlight and they’re the difference when it comes to experiencing a musical theatre staple for the fifteenth or first time. Most know the story of “Joseph” and where it will end, but it’s how you get there which makes it worth the price of admission.
There are several knockout performances which complement The Croswell’s stage as we follow Xavier Sarabia’s Joseph on his voyage from exile to redemption after getting ousted by his brothers for being the favorite child and flaunting his accomplishments, including the titular, colorful, dreamcoat his father bestowed upon him (which, thanks to Pam Krage’s costume design, truly pops). From there, we follow Joseph as he climbs the ranks in Egypt under the wealthy Potiphar (Anthony Isom who is a riot, especially stealing laughs during a late second act cameo channeling his inner Neo from “The Matrix”) until eventually landing at the feet of Chris Stack’s scene-stealing Elvis meets Jerry Lewis meets Ace Ventura Pharaoh who is having issues interpreting his dreams. Stack’s physicality and songs left this critic and much of the opening night crowd in stitches.
Major props to Sarabia who not only has to shoulder the intensity of the show and play it straight against these wacky characters (including Stack), but also bring the warmth and charisma necessary to show-up and sing his “Close Every Door” with emotional heft. He’s the glue holding the show together and that’s a tough ask for any performer (not to mention the pressure) though Sarabia makes it look easy. Likewise for the two narrators, played here by Natasha Ricketts and Lauren DePorre, channeling the energy of Rice’s lyrics and Webber’s music into one slam dunk package. Ricketts' strong vocal delivery alongside DePorre's expressiveness make for the perfect recipe, keeping the tempo and pace moving.
The Croswell’s “Joseph” also has the added benefit of a terrific male chorus primarily made up by Jakob’s sons, in particular AJ Howard’s Asher who flexes his chops on several laugh out loud occasions, but the staging and vocal magic that happens during act two’s rendition of “Those Canaan Days'' stands among some of The Croswell’s best work. Again, most purchasing a ticket know what they’re already getting into, except these minor tweaks in the vein of comedic delivery and blocking give the show a new, delightful flavor. The less said about Webber’s problematic depiction of Middle Eastern culture, the better.
Dave Nelms' playful scenic design gives this expansive ensemble plenty to work around, even if some transitions, movements, and themes feel disjointed. Chris Goosman’s solid and steady sound design hit a few roadblocks on opening night with the typical snafus regarding feedback and mic issues (when you have that many performers on stage, it can be unavoidable) but those small occurrences were hastily corrected throughout the evening. Novak’s orchestra sounded electric, giving Sarabia and company all the essential musical tools for optimal performance.
Altogether, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was never a revelatory or groundbreaking musical, but an effective and soothing addition in the pathos of history. Originally written as a primary school play in 1968 and going through numerous rewrites (and honestly could use a few more) until it became what we know today, The Croswell’s latest still remains a savory and lightweight family experience. Most importantly, it seeks to remind us how grateful we should be for the live, communal experience. Throughout the last year, many have sat in the darkness Joseph experiences when he’s left alone and abandoned. Through his resilience and eagerness to make a difference and cultivate a fruitful life from nothing, Joseph found himself.
Now that’s an encouraging message worth celebrating.
The Croswell’s production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT continues Thursday, August 19th through Sunday, August 22nd. Tickets can be purchased at Croswell.org. Please note face masks or shields are required for all performances regardless of vaccination status.