Kids give 'joseph' color, comedy at the box
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published Feb. 26, 2018
Years ago, I saw the‘’ Broadway production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” starring Donnie Osmond.
With lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the musical has been a favorite of young and old for its family friendly themes and catchy tunes.
While the Broadway production was slick and grand, The Box Theatre (formerly The New Theatre on Main) is presenting a mostly kids version that is simple and unpretentious, but utterly charming, filled with youthful energy.
The show features the considerable talents of The Box Theatre’s managing artistic directors, Timothy J. Barnes and Allison Chicorel, who also serve as the show’s directors. Barnes plays Joseph while Chicorel is the Narrator, both huge roles. They are virtually the only adults among this cast of 32.
But there are plenty of opportunities for youngsters to shine in this Bible story – from the Book of Genesis – of Joseph, one of 12 sons fathered by Jacob. Joseph is the favored son, evidenced by the gorgeous multi-colored coat given him. In this show it’s a handsome, many-hued jacket created by Jean Hertz.
As the story goes, the other sons are so jealous that they lead Joseph away with plans to kill him, but instead sell him to some passing Ishmaelites as a slave. The brothers come back with Joseph’s coat stained with goat’s blood and tell their father he has died.
Joseph is purchased by the wealthy Potiphar and quickly moves up the ranks of the servants until Potiphar’s evil wife seduces Joseph (the kids’ version keeps it all G-rated).
Furious, Potiphar (Josh Bowen) tosses him in a cell, but soon Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams gains the attention of Pharaoh (Jack Rankin). Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream that predicts seven years of feast, then famine, and Joseph becomes the Pharaoh’s right-hand man.
When the famine hits Joseph’s brothers, they head to Egypt to grovel for food and unknowingly meet with Joseph, who gives them each sacks of food, but Benjamin (Cameron Krieser), ostensibly, tries to make off with a gold cup as well. His brothers all take the fall for Benjamin, which impresses Joseph, and all 12 bros happily return to their father.
Kids add high energy
Barnes and Chicorel lead the youngsters through this fast-paced bit of Bible history told in song. Chicorel told me she had no voice when she woke up on the morning of the show’s opening, but a quick trip to the doctor returned her fine voice for the opening night show. As always, she was spot on musically and showed why the spotlight loves her.
The rather tall, lanky Barnes playing Joseph is quite a stretch for the role, considering his father, Jacob, is played by 8-year-old Zeke Kalush. They got around Barnes’ size with a cute bit at the beginning in which Barnes hesitates to come out from backstage because he’s so big.
With that incongruity out of the way, the show breezes along, tune after catchy Rice-Webber tune, punctuated with lots of youthful exuberance. Barnes keeps Joseph’s demeanor in scale with his smaller brothers, yet provides the audience with a rainbow of emotions, from the heartfelt moment in “Close Every Door,” to the comic in “Go, Go Joseph.”
Kalush is beyond cute playing Jacob, with his massive grey beard flopping into an ascot around his neck.
The youngsters playing the brothers are a bit messy with Chicorel’s choreography, but make up for it with engaging individual portrayals. I especially liked Keleous Lange’s singing of “One More Angel in Heaven” after the brothers fake Joseph’s death. Lange sells the country western tune, which he sings with a likeable twang while breaking out some appropriate line-dance moves.
In the fun “Benjamin Calypso,” Ryan Vanselow has an easy style as he sways to the calypso beat and articulates well the lyrics that proclaim his brother’s innocence (“Benjamin is honest as coconuts”), while the other brothers take the blame for Benjamin’s theft of the gold cup (“We are the criminal guilty ones”).
Rankin as Pharaoh is another crowd-pleaser with his Elvis-like portrayal – down to the King’s swivel hips – in “Song of the King.” The portrayal is effective, but it’s hard to understand the lyrics with his exaggerated Elvis voice. I loved the Teen Ensemble (Sailor Ames, Evie Evans, Lexie Zandt and Ellie Szczech), who keep up lively “American Bandstand” backgrounds of “ba-bops” and “shoop shoops” during this piece, and pleasing vocals, including some nice harmonies, during other numbers. The quartet also sparkles with their dancing.
Josh Bowen as Potiphar has a nice command of his role, while Sam Bisordi as Simeon dons a beret and French accent along with his brothers as he effectively leads the campy “Those Canaan Days,” which the receptive audience loved.
As Joseph’s cellmates, the Baker and Butler, Lily Garbelman and Gabriel Hagedorn, respectively, also are fun to watch. Garbelman really milks the scene with exaggerated shock when she hears Joseph’s interpretation of her dream.
The big ensemble numbers have lots of life led by Barnes and Chicorel, including “Joseph’s Coat” and “Go, Go Joseph.” Music director Ashley Sprangers has elicited some sweet sounds from the kids.
The kids really get to showcase their talents in the “Mega-Mix” finale, reprising their roles throughout the show. All the young performers seemed especially loose during the extended number on opening night, allowing their talents to shine.
While the cozy theater does not offer a lot of options in staging, I missed some of the colorful, elaborate sets in earlier youth shows such as “Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” However, the streamlined set and simple costumes allow the youngsters to focus on their performances, rather than on props and set changes.
If you go
Who: The Box Theatre
What: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
When: Through March 18
Where: W359 N5920 Brown St., Unit 101, Oconomowoc
Tickets/Info: 262-560-0564; www.boxtheatreco.com