“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan
By Tom Nissley
Confessions up front -- I don’t especially like any of the VERY popular works by Rice and Webber. But sitting through this beautiful production of “Joseph” might change my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, and like history more. The story of “Joseph” isn’t straight history, but in its original text, found in the Book of Genesis, it provides a backward glance into how the Hebrew peoples got into Egypt on the way to Canaan, and how they became slaves before, with Moses, they became free.
I remembered Elvis Presley, “Hair,” Vietnam protests, and the PepsiCo Pavilion “Small World”, from the 1964 World’s Fair, while I was watching the production unfold, and you may too. The show, as it has evolved, brings a pattern of many cultures, differentiated by musical rhythms and costumes, into a glorious parade of kingdoms of the world.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was directed by Melody Meitrott Libonati, who along with her husband, producer Ed Libonati, keeps the dream alive for the Summer Theatre of New Canaan. The opportunity to have a children’s choir in the company -- sixteen singer-dancers -- fits Melody’s style beautifully, and she kept them on the stage, to be accessed as needed with the ensemble and often with the narrator (an enthusiastic Corrine C. Broadbent), who is ostensibly telling them the story of Joseph and his dreams.
From the first moments of the ensemble on stage -- a circle dance choreographed by Doug Shankman that was perfectly Jewish, it was apparent that great dancing and great costumes (Arthur Oliver) would lead the way through the tale. And they did, not only in ‘Jacob and Sons,’ but in each sequence that followed: Egyptians, Western Cowboys, Rock and Roll, Calypso dance, and French Apache-style, the collaborators, who certainly also include music director Stephen Purdy, gave us a special cameo treat. One of the best moments was conceived by Charles Pavarini III, who designed the great pyramid that rose in bursts to overwhelm the rear stage while Egyptian slaves heaved together on large ropes, pulling it into position. That short scene was a choreographed marvel and a rare moment of awe to carry home from the set design.
Christopher DeRosa’s Joseph was beautifully sweet. He loved his father, and he loved his brothers with a Billy-Budd-like naivete, not stopping to imagine that his own sense of being special was off-putting to others. He developed strength with the narrative, and gave a generous performance. Brian Silliman, a favorite of STONC audiences, was cast as Jacob, the Patriarch; Potifar, the millionaire who bought Joseph from the traders, and then threw him into jail after Mrs. Potifar (Grace Hardin) tried hard to seduce him; and Pharoah’s baker, doomed to die. Silliman is a Zero Mostel type, who performs different character roles with some similarity, each one nevertheless infused with a separate persona. The baker was particularly funny.
William Hammons is a lively and exuberant Elvis-like Pharoah. Dru Serkes is a solid butler and also Issachar. Kenneth Linsley is great as the lead singer in ‘Those Canaan Days.’ And all the other brothers, wives, dancers, members of the ensemble, are vital, seem to be having fun, and play well with the audience. Special mention should be made of young Christian Camporin, who dances the role of the sacrificed goat.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through August 5. The Summer Theatre tent is located beyond the high school playing fields. Enter at the high school from Farm Road and keep going. Telephone 203-966-4634, or go to www.stonc.org for tickets.
Tom Nissley fr the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre