Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Color It Joyful

Color It Joyful

By Tom Wachunas

   A suggestion: dust off your bible and open it up to Genesis, chapter 37. Therein begins the iconic drama (which continues for several more chapters) about a family torn apart by envy and hate. Jacob favors is son, Joseph, more than any of his other 11 sons, and makes him a spectacular robe of many colors, befitting, it would seem, a king. Joseph flaunts the garment, along with his gift for interpreting prophetic dreams, which include a vision of Joseph ruling over his entire family. This causes his already jealous and angry brothers to hate him all the more and subsequently plot his demise. Rather than kill him outright, they sell him to a caravan on its way to Egypt. Then they stain his precious coat with goat’s blood, presenting it as evidence to Jacob that his most beloved son had been killed by a wild beast. Prior to the joyous reconciliation some years later with his family, Joseph ends up in an Egyptian prison, yet ultimately rises to a position of power and prestige second only to the Pharaoh himself.

   This has certainly been the adventurous stuff of many children’s Sunday school lessons. In many ways, that presentational spirit of a child’s perspective remains at the core of the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It’s a perspective carried over from the show’s humble beginnings as a very short “pop cantata” performed by a London children’s choir in 1968. Appropriately enough, then, the scintillating Players Guild production, directed by Jonathan Tisevich, begins with Rachael Armbruster as the effervescent Narrator, addressing a group of 12 wide-eyed children seated attentively at her feet. Throughout the show she effectively adopts the persona of an ever-friendly teacher, with a notably bright singing voice, brimming with bubbly warmth and enthusiasm. Interestingly, that pleasant persona is something of an ironic presence considering the gloomier underpinnings of Joseph’s plight.

    As Joseph, Jonathan Gruich is a commanding figure who brings real emotional heft to his singing. He’s wholly believable, either as the dashing, prideful dream-sayer, the slave wrongly accused of lusting after the wife of Potiphar (Pharaoh’s Captain of the Guard) and languishing in prison, or the powerful man who shows Pharaoh how to save Egypt from famine and in the process re-unites with his brothers and forgives them. Meanwhile, Todd Cooper’s portrayal of the strutting, booty-bouncing Pharaoh-in-a-jumpsuit is a deliciously shameless Elvis imitation that brings down the house.  
   So indeed the proceedings never become too dark or heavy-handed. There are in fact numerous truly hilarious passages, often thanks to the male ensemble playing Joseph’s brothers. After they break the bad news about Joseph, elderly father Jacob (Matthew Heppe) limps about in a state of very sincere sorrow while they intone “One More Angel in Heaven” with faces and voices wildly contorted into remarkably individualized expressions of feigned grief and not-so-secret glee. And much later, as they reflect mournfully on their situation in the chanson-style “Those Canaan Days,” the humor is all the more pronounced via their thick French accents.

   Additionally, the women and children ensembles are equally engaging singers and dancers. When these ensembles combine, a kind of tribal intensity ensues, with deeply sonorous vocal harmonies soaring through the brisk and nimble choreography by Lauren Dangelo. Beyond the bejeweled colors of the wild costumes by Suwatana Rockland, this dazzling gem of entertainment shimmers in a delightful pastiche of musical colors as well – from 1920s Charleston and vintage Elvis, to Calypso and Country Western, to name only some – driven by the infectious artistry of the live orchestra conducted by Steve Parsons. 
    Everything seems to move so fast and furious. And just when you think the story has ended, that you’ve heard that final note of an electrifying communal hurrah, the entire cast rolls right back out in a raucous romp - a protracted medley of just about every tune in the show. It’s a madcap recap of unmitigated ebullience. It might at first seem like too much for too long.

   But then again, think for a moment on the terrible and terrifying condition of the world we live in these days. Can there ever really be such a thing as too much joy? Thanks, Players Guild, for the invigorating memo. 

   Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat / at Canton Players Guild Theatre, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, Ohio / Through November 17, 2019 / Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.  (shows at 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday Nov. 16) / $34 for single tickets, $27 for 17 and younger, $31 for Seniors / available at   or call the Box Office at 330.453.7617

No comments: