It’s quite amazing to think that a little show like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which started out more than 40 years ago as a brief cantata for a school choir, could have the shelf life it’s had—countless productions, many of them right here—and such a variety of versions of the same Biblical tale of Joseph and his brothers. The latest: the Manatee Players’ current production.
That production harks back a bit to those school choir days, for it adds to the cast a children’s choir of 15 young girls. They both sing and are sung to, as the show’s Narrator (Channing Weir) and titular hero (Tom Westlake) frequently seem to be reciting the story to them as a school lesson.
There are other additions that some followers of the Joseph saga may not have seen, depending on which version they’re accustomed to. The dance numbers here are extended, the cast expanded, and the closing number, a Joseph Megamix, provides a sort of wrap-up of the show’s songs.
But the basics of the story are still the same: That doted-on son of Jacob (Ken Basque, who also plays Potiphar, Joseph’s later owner) is sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers but rises to become the Pharaoh’s right-hand man and eventually executes justice on his betrayers—all thanks to his uncanny ability to interpret dreams. The familiar mix of Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice songs ranges from country-western to calypso to pop (all managed under the musical direction of Buzz Herron and his “orchestrion”), including favorites such as One More Angel, Canaan Days and Any Dream Will Do.
With a large cast and the time to make the most of each number, choreographer-director Dewayne Barrett really ramps up the production, which is usually satisfying (although by the end of the evening you may feel it’s all a bit much for such a simple tale). Tom Westlake’s Joseph is certainly no teen-age pop star version, and his voice has its limitations. But with so much going on around him much of the time, that’s not a big drawback, and he looks the part convincingly.
As the Narrator, Channing Weir is both composed and talented beyond what her years might suggest (she’s just 15). Krista Hubschmitt does some tantalizing work as Potiphar’s Wife and as the dance captain, especially of the closing megamix number. The brothers, supported by more female cast members than usual, are fine, with Eldred Brown as Reuben, Michael Kent as Levi and Taso Zouroudis as Dan getting more of a chance to stand out on certain numbers. And Mark Netherly scores as the Pharaoh on that always crowd-pleasing Elvis-influenced Song of the King.
Throughout the show, Georgina Wilmott’s costumes, whether all white, plain and suitable for desert wear or “regal” (as in the blue and gold of the Egyptian scenes) are a pleasure to look at, and Joseph P. Oshry’s lighting does frequently provide that Technicolor feeling. There were some mic feedback issues the night I attended, occasionally annoying. But the overall energy and spirit of the show and the cast carry the day.
Joseph continues through April 11; for tickets call 748-5875 or visit manateeplayers.com.