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  • Writer's pictureErma Duricko


Updated: Aug 17, 2019

How wonderful to have access to a tried and true, well-produced family musical theatre piece. Big news – great news! No one had to mortgage their home to get the family to see this show – Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat presented by Scranton Shakespeare Festival at the Robert Bellarmine Theate, Scranton Prep.

It is a responsibility for those of the theatre to help ensure an audience of future theatre goers. We can only do that if families can afford to get their children to the theatre.

Research shows that live theatre increases tolerance and the greater vocabulary of stories which cannot be replicated by seeing a film. (Recent study - head author, Dr. Jay Greene, Univ. of AR.) Being exposed to worlds outside their own world, allows children to develop a greater understanding of and acceptance of the broader world.

All of this leads to a special thank you to Scranton Shakespeare Festival for the opportunity to have an affordable family experience. This Granmie attended with her daughter, her 2 year old granddaughter, her 1 year grandson, and her best friend. All were captivated and some were dancing in the aisles.

Originally written for an end of term children’s concert by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, the 15 minute show proved so popular that Weber & Rice continued to expand the piece until it became full-length.

The afternoon I saw SFF’s production, the house was almost full. I sat upstairs in the balcony with my brood. (I liked the view provided from the upstairs.)

Based on the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors from the book of Genesis, the play is told in song from top to bottom. Filled with a variety of musical styles, it is an audience pleaser, with everyone finding some song they will hum for weeks.

Michele Conaboy McGrath, as the Narrator, guided the journey clearly, concisely, and with the voice of an angel. She never lost us – always making sure we were following. We, the audience placed our trust in her. Where lyrics were unclear, it definitely was a sound, not an actor, problem. Interestingly, she never had to fight for focus or try to match the boundless energy emanating from the stage, and the energy level of this production was off the charts.

Kudos to director Billie Aken Tyers for keeping the focus clear. Having seen a good number of productions of Joseph, some might have been more polished, but none were as energetic. As Chekov would say “Ah youth”, plus an advantage of a short run is helpful in that respect.

Stephen Murphy was comfortable and dynamic in the role of Joseph. He was equally as strong as the music director for the show. As the archetype protagonist – our hero was charismatic with an openness that invited all to like him. No wonder his brothers wanted him gone.

The company ensemble, both youth and adult, completely worked off each other, even where talents and technique were not equal. They worked together and off us, the audience, creating a true inclusive, collaborative atmosphere.

Luke Anthony Neville as Pharaoh rocked the joint in his Elvis number. It appears the choice was keep it subtle – personally I would have loved to see this talented actor really let loose. This show doesn’t really call for a subtle Elvis impersonation. “Ah, thankyouverymuch.”

The children added a special nuance to the show – the purity, the joy, the hope. Who doesn’t like kids onstage in a rousing family musical?

Kristen Brooks Sandler, choreographer, blazed across the stage – her sparks pulled the audience into the dances and musical staging as if she was a magnet. WOW! This choreographer most definitely has a long career ahead. Her interpretation and imagination was melded to the character and music. Choreography in the theatre is never about creating dances in a play. The real choreographers understand early on that they are allowing the concept of the director, the hearts of the characters, the story of the writers, and the music of the composers to burst forth from the initial source of creation. Ms. Sandler gets it. She is a gifted interpreter.

In past reviews of SSF, I have been awestruck by the design team’s creations on a shoestring. Really, nothing is wanting. Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat requires some elaborate props and costumes. The budget should be large enough to accommodate the needs of the show. The prop design and execution were magical. Amy Black is an asset for the production. I only hoped for 2 puppets – one plump to be used during good times and the other scrawny during famine. Again – budget, I presume.

The costume design was seamlessly interwoven with the fabric of the tale. Who would not want the Narrator’s costumes in their closet? They surely were to be coveted. Dawn McGurl is her own kind of magician. Everyone on that stage was clothed appropriately and creatively. As for the coat of many colors – spectacular in design, I felt it needed more weight, actual weight, since the coat is an actual character in the play. I am not sure if that was a directorial decision or design decision but I did feel it needed weight, gorgeous as it was.

The soundtrack seemed too compressed to allow dynamic. At times it became distracting and not supportive of some terrific voices. At the performance I saw, the sound operator was not on top of the game coming in late here and there for Joseph and the Narrator. The cues could have been called late – since most of the other cues were solid, I do not know.

In the souvenir program, director Billie Aken Tyers gives us insight into where and what her directorial concept was. Honestly, reading artistic statements before experiencing the art is anathema to me. I did understand what she was going for with young Joseph. At times, more successful than other times. After reading her statement, I realized what her concept was. Yes, very noble, yes exciting, but it must be clear in the production itself.

Guided by this poignant and commendable quote I would go there with her with had there been a bit more finesse in bringing the concept to life: “The dreams we have as children form the foundations of who we are as adults”; Ash Perrin – The Flying Seagull Project

As a mom of a humanitarian who sets up programs for children and aid for families in war torn countries (right now in Syria), once again, the importance of art of play hits me as being almost as necessary as food.

Ms. Tyers is to be commended for going after the dream. Talent and social awareness will get her far. The truth of what artists can bring to children, to humanity, was certainly present in her production

En avant!


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