Review by Jason Wert
Springfield Little Theatre heads into their 85th season of bringing incredible productions to the Ozarks tonight with a musical that to theatre fans is almost like visual comfort food: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This well known musical has been around since the 1968 and has been a staple of school and community theatre productions across the country. So what would SLT bring to the table with this well-beloved classic of stage and sound?
The thing that struck me right away was how the entire ensemble seemed to blend as one unit. Joseph is one of those kinds of plays where the entire cast really plays an almost equal role in the production; even the “lead characters” don’t really have that much more stage time than the rest of the cast. The role that would by far have the most stage time is the role of the Narrator; and SLT takes a very unique approach to the role which just magnifies the ensemble aspect of the production.
Director Lorraine Dunn took the role normally assigned to one actor and broke it into parts for four: Kayla Buecker, Mary Kim, Austen McGranahan, and Zoe Zelonky each take a segment of the role. The strength of the show actually runs through those four women: they subtly set the tone for each scene both in their appearance and their performances. The costuming is subtle and direct: the more “pop” stylings of McGranahan are paired with a costume that reminds one of Sandy at the end of Grease; the more operatic Kim’s role has her in a dress you would expect from someone about to belt out Ave Maria. It showed a focus on the depth of the costuming that shows why SLT is one of America’s premiere community theatres; they focus on every detail of a show in ways that many community theatres would overlook. (Detail even down to the colors and styles of the earrings the narrators wore having a psychological match to the tone of their solo songs.)
Vocally, the quartet shines individually and collectively; it’s a consistent rock steady base upon which the rest of the cast builds the production. Oh, in a pleasant surprise, Zoe Zelonky is unusually good at playing the harmonica.
Robert Gibson, in his debut with Springfield Little Theatre, does a quality job in the lead role of Joseph. When he is on stage, he has a flow to his movements which makes the performance seem effortless. His facial expressions are subtle enough to be seen in the back of the house without seeming too over the top. His inflection hits all the emotional notes. I’m sure this will not be the last time Gibson graces the Landers stage in a major role.
The men who play Joseph’s brothers are solid in their roles with Connor Paulson stepping out a little ahead of the rest with his portrayal of Levi. In the song “One More Angel”, the country western music part of the show, he seems very comfortable in the genre. He also knows how to put off a very evil look to the audience when the brothers prepare to sell Joseph into slavery. I mean this not in a negative way but at times Paulson looked downright Satanic in his facial movements during that portion of the story. (It fits, believe me, but it does register an emotional shock.)
The show also features some very campy moments including the role of Mrs. Potiphar being played by Glenn Sneed in drag. The moment is very Rocky Horror/Monty Python/Kids in the Hall-like in the tradition of men playing over-the-top women characters and you can see Sneed relishing the opportunity to ham it up on stage. Sneed also brings that camp to his other part of the Pharoah which is a straight up parody of the King, Elvis Presley.
Not young Elvis either. Fat Elvis.
I’ll let you combine the image of an Egyptian pharaoh and Fat Elvis…but it’s comedic gold in the sequined jumpsuit of Sneed.
As I mentioned with the quartet of narrators, there is outstanding costuming in this production and the detail is extremely impressive. Whether it’s the Hebrew writing on the scarves of some of the angelic dancers, or the child’s beanie they have the youngest brother Benjamin wearing when he’s confronted by Joseph, the subtle attention to detail greatly enhances the overall look of the production.
The band was outstanding; I noticed one of the musicians in the pit playing three different instruments during the course of the show. Parker Payne has the band hitting on all cylinders and the music mixing by the technical crew was on point.
Now, it wasn’t a perfect production. I did see a few times where the choreography was off and a few times the vocals were lost under the music, but these were minor issues that someone looking for things like that would notice. I saw no glaring issues that brought someone out of the illusion of the story and nobody’s performance was so weak that it stood out as a low point in the production.
Now, with all of this said where there is a lot of good and very little bad, you might expect me to say this is a must see show and one you’ll want to see more than once. Unfortunately, I can’t really say that about this show. There was nothing in the production that really left me thinking “wow” and no performance that really jumped out as a breakthrough for an individual. Everything was just very good, it gelled together very well, and it certainly provided a solid, entertaining evening. It just didn’t leave me wanting to run out and tell everyone under the sun to get into the Landers in the way some of the smaller scale SLT productions of the Awesome 80s Prom or Forbidden Broadway have done.
If someone is a fan of the play itself, perhaps I could see someone wanting a repeat viewing of the production; for the average theatre goer I would anticipate they would see the show, they would have a good time, and then they’d wait to come back when Little House on the Prairie: The Musical opens October 25.