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Posted July 2, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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In full color: Joseph and his amazing coat to fill SU stage
By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Audiences at the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's next production will receive a nice holiday between the summer's only drama and the finale. "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, offers a fantasy version of a Bible story complete with a narrator for the children and a moral at the end.
"I think of it as cotton candy," says Tom Albert, music director for the show. A kind of a reprieve after the more modern Shakespearean-style tragedy, "West Side Story," the third show serves as what actress Joy Dewing calls "a palette cleanser."
"This is just plain fun," says Jacob Schneider, who plays the title character, Joseph.
"It's a cartoon," says Albert.
"'Joseph' is more about the story," says Schneider.
The show centers around the second youngest of 12 sons, Joseph, whose father prefers him to all the rest. When Joseph receives a fancy technicolor dreamcoat from his father, this only solidifies his father's bias and fuels jealousy among Joseph's brothers and their wives, but what really turns them against him is his prophesy -- that he will rule over them one day.
To get rid of Joseph, they sell him into slavery and tell their father that he died. Joseph endures his time in enslavement and climbs his way through the ranks of those in power by using his special gift of interpreting dreams, eventually working with the pharaoh to save Egypt.
"He's [a] very naive, very happy person," says Schneider. "He's a dreamer." Though Joseph faces a lot of unfortunate circumstances, it's his attitude that sees him through, Schneider says.
"I think it's believing in and using your specific gifts and not letting anyone take them away from you," says Dewing, who plays the Narrator.
Joseph still believes that he is there for a reason, she says, and this is why he can escape his predicament.
"You are what you feel," says Albert. "If you think something and you dream it, it's real," he says, quoting the Narrator from the beginning of the play.
The time period of the story is several thousand years ago, but Webber and Rice wrote the musical to appeal to their contemporaries in the 1970s. Hence the character of Pharaoh written in the style of Elvis Presley.
"He's Elvis because he's the king," says Albert. "Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were focused on current pop music matters," he says. "The did something very obvious; they just made the king of Egypt the king -- and it's immensely hilarious."
And the Narrator? She pulls everything together, Dewing says.
"I see it as a camp counselor," she says. She has to explain the plot in a way that draws in the audience but also appeals to children, the original intended audience.
"'Joseph' has a really unusual background," says Albert. It was written for a boys' school as a short cantata. Webber and Rice added on to it, and it eventually became what it is today, still short by musical theater standards, but still a big hit to follow Webber's and Rice's first big success, "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"It's grown into something larger, but the core is still simplest," says Albert. It was meant to teach children the story of Joseph, from Genesis.
Webber fans will notice similarities in the music of "Joseph" with "Phantom of the Opera," "Cats" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," Albert says. Like many other composers, Webber's music has a signature all to itself, but more than that Webber's music is so relatable, so "hummable," Schneider says, that after hearing it you feel like you've always known it.
"He has this gift for melody writing ... simple but very catchy," says Albert. "A little something that keeps it interesting ... it's simple and sophisticated."
"I think the music was written as a cartoon," says Albert. "All of the characters are very simply drawn."
Sometimes the simplest stories are the best ones, though. It all starts with a dreamcoat, but it ends with the realization of one's dreams and a better understanding of one's self.
Joseph's idea of life changes drastically in the beginning of the story, but along the way he has a decision to make: Turn his back on the family that betrayed him, or forgive them.
"[You] can choose to go one way in your life, bury your own head in the sand ... or go this other way in your life," says Dewing.
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is the third of four musicals in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre held at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre at Shenandoah University in Winchester. It runs from Wednesday through July19. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. Matinees are at 2:30 p.m. every Saturday and on July 15. For tickets or more information call the box office at 665-4569 or visit the Web at www.su.edu.
The last show of the season is "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."
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