By Colin Douglas
If you think you already know this much-produced family musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the current production at BrightSide Theatre may just surprise you.
The old adage that everything old is new again is proving to be true with this relatively young theatre company, particularly in their current holiday offering. High-energy, professionally staged musical numbers that’ll absolutely blow you away, performed by a top notch, incredibly talented cast is just the beginning. Artistic Director Jeffrey Cass has staged an professionally polished, peerless, playful and superbly pleasurable new production that will be remembered for years to come.
During the past seven years, this Naperville theatre company has produced over a dozen beautifully staged musicals and plays. But as BrightSide opens its eighth season, a higher level of polish and perfection seems to be taking stage. Not only does this production of Joseph… provide audiences with a highly entertaining evening in the theatre, this show easily rivals anything seen at some of the bigger, more prominent Chicago venues. It also offers the promise of some undiscovered talent and a new season of even higher excellence.
With only a few lines of dialogue, this sung-through musical was an immediate smash hit when it opened in London’s West End in 1973. Originally written as a 15-minute pop cantata for a London school choir, Weber’s retelling of the Old Testament Bible story has been continually expanded, adding more songs and, eventually, an uptempo megamix of several numbers to be performed at the curtain call. Weber’s musical finally transferred to Broadway in 1982, and its popularity inspired a sold-out national tour. Now you might think that a musical that’s been done by nearly every theatre group in Chicago would simply be a predictable, tired old retread of past productions, but that’s not the case.
First of all, Director Cass has outdone himself by launching this popular, 50-year-old family-friendly confection into the new millennium. As always, the director has used the entire theatre space to its fullest advantage. There’s magic going on absolutely everywhere, from every corner of the thrust stage down to the aisles. In fact, audiences should be warned to be on time to the show, because latecomers may find themselves caught up in a throng of actors and accidentally whisked onto the stage. Cass’ large ensemble, which includes a different children’s chorus at each performance, rush all over the place at lightning speed. Pulsating with dynamic dance moves, from hip hop and acrobatics, to ballet and jazz, and sung full-tilt by some of the most extraordinary actors/singers the company has ever employed, this production looks and sounds just as fresh and current as if it had been written today.
Jon Neuhoff’s tiptop musical direction, along with the admirable vocal guidance provided by Sarah Giordano, sets the pace and includes a skilled, eight-member backstage orchestra that keeps this show rocking and rolling. Jeni Donahue’s intricate choreography, the best ever seen at this theatre, is incredibly tight, totally in sync, well-performed and never exceeds the talents of her cast. Shana Hall has outdone herself with this production. She’s designed and created the most stunningly creative and colorful costumes imaginable. They’re sparkling, splashy (especially for the Narrator) and still wildly whimsical. Check out the details, like the blue-suede shoes everyone wears during the Pharaoh’s “Song of the King.” While Barry R. Norton’s sparse scenic design doesn’t add much to the splendor of this production, Cass wisely fills the stage with so many actors that the need for elaborate scenery is debatable. Ruby Lowe’s lighting design, however, steps up to the show’s demands, focusing our attention where it needs to be and illuminating the actors perfectly. At the same time she gives the production a feeling of glitz and glamor. These are just some of the reasons to revisit this popular show or experience it for the first time.
But Cass has also found an incredibly talented cast to bring this story to life. Andreece Nikudinovski is positively radiant and remarkable as the Narrator. This mega talented singer is a marvel. In Cass’ vision, she’s an elementary Sunday School teacher who calls her class to order to teach them, through a Bible story, about making the most of who you are. She sings to them that “Every dream will do.” Andreece not only puts her own stamp on each musical number but proves that she’s also a beautifully skilled actor and dancer, as well. A kind of unspoken big sister relationship evolves between her character and talented Michael Metcalf’s handsome Joseph that’s very touching. He brings so much talent, charm and charisma to this role that it’s impossible to think of anyone else playing this part. Metcalf’s radiant smile lights up the theatre and he wins the hearts of every audience member. And when both actors command the stage, as they often do, you witness the very embodiment of star power.
While every single performer in this ensemble is stellar, standouts include handsome Andrew Brhel, as Levi, with his hoedown, Country-Western rendition of “One More Angel in Heaven;” the duo of Connor Murray and Matt Whalen, who musically impress as an imprisoned Baker and Butler, seeking dream interpretation from Joseph; the professionally trained vocals of Caleb Hand as Ruben, Joseph’s melodramatic brother, who leads a tongue-in-cheek pseudo-French ballad, “Those Canaan Days;” and the bubbly, buoyant and fun-loving Austin Nelson who creates a musical frenzy with his “Benjamin Calypso.” In addition, talented Jacob Huddilston makes a hilarious hip-swiveling Elvis Presley-inspired Pharaoh, while Barry R. Norton takes the stage with presence as both Jacob and Potiphar. The ensemble of supporting brothers, particularly Logan Baffico, as Benjamin, and Christian Pena, as Dan, along with the chorus of gifted wives and courtesans, are terrific, as well.
BrightSide Theatre’s splendid, splashy new production finds all the humor, and a little bit of pathos, in this familiar, family-friendly musical. It’s an exciting production that makes for a great alternative entertainment for the holidays. The humor, spectacle and memorable musical numbers, with their catchy refrains, simply offer the right advice and say it best: “Go, Go, Go, Go!”
BrightSide Theatre presents “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” through December 9 at Meiley-Swallow Hall, of North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth Street, Naperville. More information and tickets are available here.