"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" Barksdale Theatre Through July 3 $28.50 282-2620
Who knew the Bible could be such a blast? Thanks to the spunky direction of Randy Strawderman, a party atmosphere permeates Barksdale Theatre's revival of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." This production is so eager to please and the performers seem to be having such a good time, you can't help but get caught up in the fun. The pervasive mirth lets "Joseph" get away with some ragged edges, but a missed step or two won't spoil your enjoyment of this exuberant whirlwind of a show.
Strawderman knows "Joseph" well; his original production in 1984 ran for a year and a half and spawned three national tours. In his new show, the director takes advantage of the play's many built-in crowd-pleasers and then adds some interesting new twists. His spirited cast is always moving, often into the crowd, expanding the show so that it seems about to burst out of the arena-style theater.
The fun begins with the cast ambling on stage carrying coolers and beach paraphernalia. These are the many sons and daughters of Jacob (Robert Albertia), and among them is the patriarch's favorite son, Joseph (Sean Linfors). Jacob so adores little Joe that he gives him a snazzy coat of many colors, which pushes Joe's envious brothers over the homicidal edge. But rather than kill the boy, they end up selling him into Egyptian slavery where his fortunes rise due to an uncanny knack for reading the significance of dreams. Eventually, fate leads Joe into a cathartic confrontation with his brothers so that a somewhat sketchy lesson about forgiveness can be delivered.
Even though the story is Bible-based, it's best not to concentrate on the messages of this show (among them: Anyone can make a difference, as long as they have an inexplicable psychic ability to foretell the future). Instead, let the playful gang of actors who portray Joe's brothers entertain you with their antic delivery of the country-and-western tune "One More Angel in Heaven" and the comically overwrought "Those Canaan Days." Enjoy the confident and capable guidance of your narrator, Sandee Flores, and the fancy high-stepping skills of the female chorus. And prepare yourself to meet a pharaoh like no other, when Jim Morgan bursts onto the scene in a wonderfully bizarre get-up of gold and glitter (care of costume designer Scott Lynwood Joyce).
Concentrating on these highlights will allow you to overlook the fact that the show loses almost all coherence during Morgan's campy hijinks. And it may distract you from a creeping suspicion that the youthful Linfors isn't yet capable of carrying a role with the vocal and emotional demands of Joseph. The shortcomings are there but they barely make a dent in the formidable appeal of this show.
Providing the musical backbone for "Joseph" is a peppy band led by musical director Jay Clayton. While they hit a few clunkers early on, by the time Jacob's boys broke into the infectious rhythms of the "Benjamin Calypso," they had settled into a rollicking groove. The musicians, along with everyone else in this "Joseph," seem determined to satisfy. Why fight it? Party
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