Some Broadway musicals become legendary, enjoying new revivals and interpretations over the ensuing decades, and some are lost to history for one reason or another. One show that has enjoyed a very long life on stages around the world is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice musical to be performed publicly. And now to help celebrate the 45th anniversary of Toby Orenstein’s The Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, and the 50th anniversary of the area known as Columbia, MD, Toby’s Dinner Theatre has given new life to the classic musical with the added attraction of hosting five different Narrator’s during the show’s run. The role will be filled by Toby’s alums who have gone on to Broadway in some cases: Coby Kay Callahan, Cathy Mundy, Janine Sunday, MaryKate Brouillet and Caroline Bowman. Ms. Bowman will take the reins for the first two weeks of the production.
The story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat comes from the Book of Genesis when Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery and told their father he was dead. Joseph becomes the property of Potiphar, but when the missus is caught seducing the young man, it is he who is imprisoned. But his gift of prophecy brings him to the attention of Pharaoh who makes Joseph his right hand man. Joseph predicts seven years of good crops and abundant food for Egypt but after that famine will come, and when his family falls victim to that prophecy they travel to Egypt which had smartly stored its food. But will they recognize the lost brother, or will he exact his revenge on them for their misdeed?
I have to admit that while Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has had a very long shelf life since its 1970 premiere, it’s not one of my favorite shows. I don’t mind anachronisms in productions like this (I absolutely love Moulin Rouge), but Webber and Rice have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this work – from classic Broadway-style numbers to disco, calypso and … cowboys?! It’s just a bit too all over the place for me, and it makes the story not very cohesive.
But that is not to knock this new production at Toby’s. What I love about the shows at Toby’s is the genuine enthusiasm and passion each and every performer gives to the audience, from the leads to the ensemble, you can watch each and every one of them giving their all. There is no part too big or too small at Toby’s, and it’s always interesting to see actors from the last show who were in lead roles, like David Jennings who was last seen as Gaston in Toby’s production of Beauty and the Beast now part of the ensemble (and he gets a couple of scenes as Pharaoh). This dedication to the theatre is a real testament to Toby.
While there is a large cast that wears many hats throughout the production (yes, including those of the cowboy variety), the show really belongs to the Narrator and Joseph. For this production, Caroline Bowman performed the Narrator role and she does a fantastic job of drawing you in to the story as any good narrator should. She has a bright, clear voice and is always engaging with the audience and the other characters. The other ladies who will follow in her footsteps have a high bar set for them, but I’m sure they will each put their own particular mark on the role.
As for Joseph, Wood Van Meter is perfection in his Toby’s debut. Van Meter may be familiar to audiences in the DC area, but he’s had a successful run in regional theatres as well. Here, he just shines as Joseph with a beautiful, beaming smile and magnetic personality. It’s easy to see why the Potiphars and Pharaoh are drawn to him and why his brothers are so envious — Joseph really is the golden boy. Van Meter makes you invested in Joseph’s fate, his joy, his sorrow and even the reaction to seeing his brothers again. And his voice. I could just sit and watch Van Meter sing for hours. He’s got a powerful, beautiful voice and he can sell every emotional moment of a song through that voice and his body language. Wood Van Meter is the total package and Toby’s should be thanking their lucky stars for this godsend of a performer. (And luckily there are an abundance of YouTube videos of Mr. Van Meter singing his heart out!)
As one comes to expect from a Toby’s production, the direction by Ms. Orenstein and Mark Minnick, coupled with Minnick’s wonderful choreography, dazzles the audience as the cast members enter and exit from all points while moving various set pieces, from set and light designer David A. Hopkins, seamlessly on and off the stage, often in the dark. I still find it remarkable after taking in several shows how they can find such creative ways to stage a show in this “in the round” space. And Lawrence B. Munsey’s costumes, including Joseph’s multi-colored coat, are a delight. Even not being drawn into the story itself, I was completely wowed by this production from top to bottom. And I can’t forget the contribution of six-piece orchestra which always provides excellent musical accompaniment to rival any Broadway or touring production. Overall, while the show itself may not be my favorite, I would see it again just to be mesmerized by Wood Van Meter and the wonderful work put forth by everyone on and off the stage. Bravo!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs about 2 hours with one twenty minute intermission. Visitors to the theatre enjoy a sumptuous buffet dinner beforehand, and don’t forget to try out the show themed beverage, The Calypso!