On Sunday, I went to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at DPAC with a friend of mine. It was a bit last minute, but she had tickets and her boyfriend didn’t really want to go. Not that I’m complaining. Stereotypical it may be, but I love musicals—blame the brilliant drama department at my high school. (I ran the stage crew—an extracurricular club—and did technical lighting for four years.) I’ve only seen Joseph once before and it was in college, I thought the story was a fun and entertaining breeze-through of an old testament staple but wasn’t particularly impressed with that performance. (In hindsight I realize that that reason I didn’t like it was because it drowned in confusion of a North American college fine arts over-interpretation.)
This, however, was an entirely different situation.
My first time at DPAC since moving to Durham, I was very excited to see the show. And because I haven’t been to many live theatre productions since college, I jumped at the chance to give this story another try. I’m glad I did.
Ace Young‘s portrayal of Joseph was energetic and fun, with his angelic smile and wide vocal range he was the perfect leading man for this production. Narrator Diana DeGarmo did an excellent job leading the story with enthusiasm and high energy; and, rather than being an invisible observer, her role actively participated in some of the scene transitions which was a lovely treat. And the musical numbers in the show were spectacular, especially the French twist of “Those Canaan Days” lead by Paul Castree as Simeon. I was also informed that these headliners were once on American Idol and that this fact was, perhaps, one of the reasons for their playing these roles—something I can’t weigh in on, having never watched the show. The supporting cast was as brilliant and energetic as the main character, and in some spots even over shadowed their Joseph. Among them, Ryan Williams did an absolutely wonderful interpretation of Pharaoh as Elvis—including the signature footwork and hip-swinging. In all honesty, Williams’ Pharaoh was, quite possibly, the most entertaining part of the show.
Above and beyond, the technical production was incredible. The director and designers did an amazing job of using these elements to enhance the show’s visuals without taking over the stage. They also managed the near impossible feat of making the audience feel as if they were a part of, and surrounded by, the scene. By projecting clever graphics on the drop and front travelers the production made excellent use of the stage’s depth. And by using swing lights, gobos, and led cans the technical lighting team pulled the stage into the house at pivotal, climactic moments.
If I had to critique something from the show, I would have to choose the folksy, country-western “One More Angel in Heaven.” More than anything else the pronunciation choice of “fer” rather that “for” to signify this musical theme got under my skin like a splinter. Not just because I don’t like the red-neck pride cultural trope, but because the rhythm of the whole song was thrown off by the emphasis on “fer”—it was as if the whole adaptation hinged on this one word’s mispronunciation. I can’t fault the musical style, it fits perfectly with the idea of a family of shepherds. (Who am I to critique Andrew Lloyd Webber?) In fact, I found the varied musical styles and genres throughout the production to be one of the strengths of the show. It’s just that, in my opinion, the over emphasis really hurt the number. It’s hard to describe, but my friend and I both turned to each other with a pained expression after the first verse. Other than that my only criticism is that DeGarmo’s voice gets a bit nasally on the higher end of her vocal range, but so does mine.
While the run of the show at DPAC was only five days (with two shows per day) from 13 May to 18 May, I’d highly recommend trying to get tickets should the production come to your town. For those readers in Durham, don’t miss this if it comes back to town! It was a brilliant show and a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.