Need someone to pull a rabbit out of a hat or turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse? Stage director Joel Ferrell is your man. I am no great fan of magic acts. But what I experienced Friday night June 24 at Dallas’ Wylie Theatre was a feat of pure, transcendent magic. Bless director/choreographer Joel Ferrell and his intrepid set designer, musical director; costume designer, special effects designer and cast of dancing/singing maniacs. In the blink of an eye, they turned a hackneyed, insipid, hodgepodge of disconnected, trite, cloying irrelevancies by Andrew Lloyd Weber (one of the world’s least imaginative, grossly over-rated musical theatre icons) into one heck of an edge of seat musical theatre entertainment. Dallas Theater Center presents Weber’s “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” as their summer offering. To my amazement, it’s a high-flying success. DTC’s production turned feeble, schmaltzy “Joseph” into a sentient, engaging production, equally pleasing to adult and youth audiences. A welcome surprise.
The musical’s book follows, loosely, linear-fashion, the Biblical tale of Joseph and his enviable “coat of many colors”. Each scene furthers Joseph’s journey, using music and dance in a multiplicity of unrelated, slapped together styles and eras. Songs include country western ballad, calypso, 60’s rock and roll, French cabaret drinking lament and, in this production, hip hop. Egypt’s pharaoh presents as an Elvis Presley impersonation; the musical’s narrator sings and interacts directly with the audience, giving a celebrity-scale performer the chance to shine. Audiences get to sway, clap and sing along. Yowza!
A sizeable children’s chorus (two rotating casts of 20) adds family interest to the show and helps sell tickets. Ferrell, DTC’s Associate Artistic director, has a rare genius for mining the faintest nugget of heart from every musical number. With “Joseph” he makes the audience forget how superficial and disconnected the songs actually are. Exemplary performances that kick the stage magic into high gear? Liz Mikel struts her classic style and charms the hall with dulcet tones as a kindly, omniscient Narrator, a gracious ‘hostess with the mostest’. Chamblee Ferguson imbues his three roles with manic delight, tossing off stellar comic turns like champagne and confetti. Lead singers Alex Ross (“One More Angel In Heaven”) and Bob Reed (“Those Canaan Days”) provide outstanding voicing and hilarious interpretation with their solos, inspiring the dancing/singing choruses to righteous hyperbolic hilarity. Every time Christie Vela slinks on stage her costumes grow more wondrously outrageous, affording her delicious chance to play the comic sultress to the hilt. Oozing graceful masculine hubba-hubba cloaked in splendid rainbow-hued raiment, or even more splendid with smooth-sculpted bare chest and shoulders, Sydney James Harcourt shines as the production’s piece de resistance, the gleaming maraschino crowning the Dairy Queen banana split. He’s very good reason for all the zany fuss. Can’t imagine Donny Osmond in the role without giggling or gagging.
Technical wizards hard at cohesive play? Bob Lavallee’s scenic design enhances the production’s cartoonish extravagance while using the full Wylie playing space to best advantage; Wade Laboisonnierre’s fanciful costumes go big-time kitsch, and Cookie Jordan has outrageous fun creating wigs and make-up drag queens would die for. Charles Parsley II (sound design) and Eugene Gwozoz (music conductor) enliven the score and sound effects to impressive, unprecedented, sophisticated levels. Jeremy Dumont corrals and directs his youth ensemble(s) with ingenuity and assurance. Amazing to see what a simple Bible story can become with a little creative teamwork. I recommend it: church sober, Deadhead stoned or drunk on your butt.
“Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” runs through August 5. http://www.dallastheatercenter.org
Photos by Karen Almond