By Barry Reszel
The key take-away from Citadel Theatre Company’s holiday-season production of family-favorite Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is that this cast sings the heck out of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s high-energy, tuneful songbook.
Celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary, Director Robert Estrin and Musical Director Ryan Brewster let the music in this multi-genred “rock” opera take center stage. Led by Carmen Risi and Laura Thoresen, these two joint narrators infuse some tender harmonies into a show typically narrated by just one. The lead trio is completed with the strikingly good-looking Jacob Barton as Joseph, whose terrific voice particularly soars in the heart-wrenching “Close Every Door.”
So, too, is the male-dominated ensemble up to the task of belting out this well-known songbook. (A full Joseph… production history, synopsis and song list is found here.) J.P. Thomas as both Jacob and the Elvis-inspired Pharaoh is terrific in the Joe-traditional “Song of the King.” Shane Roberie as eldest brother Reuben, well leads the hoedown that is “One More Angel in Heaven.” Marcellus Burt triumphs over “Benjamin Calypso.” As Simeon, Derek Fawcett, presides over the wistfully melancholy “Those Canaan Days.” It’s not coincidental that these four are the best staged numbers of the show, highlighting the choreography of Jake Ganzer.
With all this onstage talent, the call here is for Citadel to give these actors greater support (and direction) backstage. Two narrators? Really, why? Outside of a few lovely harmonies, the choice is head-scratching. And the decision to add acoustic guitar to the ballad “Any Dream Will Do” adds nothing to its initial presentation and throws a wet blanket on its reprise. So, too, the call to abandon the “Jacob in Egypt” number excludes the buildup to the final singing of this glorious ballad. And then to nix the mix (meaning the “Joseph Megamix” included in most versions of this musical)… Well, the whole thing ends, unfortunately, rather unceremoniously.
There are a few additional nits to call out, beginning with the decision to amplify the cast sound check (truly, there was a floor speaker there) in the lobby, pre-show. On top of that, post-sound check and five minutes pre-curtain, uncostumed actors donning wig caps and visible mic packs walking through the house doors and through the crowd of patrons waiting to enter and take their seats is beyond unprofessional. If theatre and the holiday season share the notion of “magic,” these actions along with Citadel’s spotty attempt to shield patrons from its backstage area really serve, unfortunately, to reveal the magicians’ methods.
Back to the show itself, it’s fair to say this is simply too large of a cast for the size of Citadel’s stage. While the numbers noted above illustrate elements of excellent staging, too often the stage is just overcrowded, rendering the choreography inconsequential. And while sound and lighting are professional, set design and costuming are uninspiring—particularly the narrators’ non-matching denim towel looks.
The hope here is that Citadel sees these criticisms as challenges.
So, does this company, as its mission states, work hard to “provide a creative haven for passionate, visionary directors, writers, actors and designers dedicated to maintaining the highest standard of professionalism”? Or, does it choose to find terrific singers and put on a musical, as many community theatres do, to the same, and often superior, standard of this Joseph?
As a reviewer who truly loves this show and went in wanting it to be fully technicolor, it’s only fair to say to would-be patrons of the Citadel production, the vocals of the cast are all that, but too much of the company’s dream is lagging.
Citadel Theatre Company presents “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” through December 30 at 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. More information and tickets are available here.