Tibbits’ ‘Dreamcoat’ shows its many colors
COLDWATER, Mich.–It’s hard to know which came first, but it could be that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice conceived Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat before Steven Schwartz conceived Godspell. Webber’s first iteration of his show was a 25-minute version in St. Paul’s Junior School in London in 1968.
Webber and Rice are infamous for never being able to come up with show unless it is from borrowed material, and even in this case they took from the Book of Genesis. But this show is one of the most produced plays around the world, as it has had multiple revivals in New York and London, in regional theater and in countless schools and churches.
It is, after all, a story from Genesis, and that just doesn’t go out of fashion.
In the Tibbits Opera House’s current production, director Lisa Lawrence sticks to the original version, though some other productions tinker the story similarly to the way some companies reinterpret Shakespeare out of the original content and time.
Scorned for his flamboyant coat, a present from his indulgent father, Joseph is driven from his home by his 11 jealous brothers. In Egypt, he is enlisted to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, and because of his wise prophecy, he is named economic adviser of the kingdom, saving the nation from recession. After needling his needy brothers and forcing them to grovel, he rewards them with fraternal affection and riches.
Selling Joseph into slavery, the nasty brothers link arms to sing a cowboy country music number, ”One More Angel in Heaven,.” Depressed at the bleakness of their lean years, the brothers, wearing berets and feigning French accents, sing a song of poverty to a Jacques Brel beat.
The sampling of genres is what keeps the material, though sacred, feeling light and whimsical.
Later they brothers rejoice in their good fortune by singing, dancing and drumming a calypso. Then, Pharaoh is represented as Elvis (Peter Riopelle) with a writhing song to match his ducktail and tight white suit.
This play has a narrator to tie lessons and scenes together, played by Erica Malachowski, who has an energetic presence on stage, though her vocals need some corralling as her singing in the lower register seems to hunt for the pitch. But she is all there in the belts. She is not helped by questionable costuming from Ariel Smith O’Neal. Overall, however, the costumes are very strong as the story toggles through its intended anachronisms.
Also, there is real talent in the ansemble, which is drawn from here and yon for this summer stock season. Kat Katona, Priscilla Greco, Etta Grover John Cavaseno, Brooke Jackson, Bailey Kote, Michael Motkowski, Taylor Joseph Rivera, Jenniellen Withers and Gil Torres are all standouts with their singing and dancing through the vignettes.
The show is a breezy 90 minutes and had a somewhat needless intermission. Indeed, to pad the show, Webber and Rice dialed in a series of reprises of each set piece at the end of the show as a finale.
Like Godspell, Dreamcoat stands up after so many years because it holds up whether you are biblical or not.