Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Also see Mark's review of Daphne's Dive
The plot follows the biblical story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. Joseph's jealous older brothers tire of the favoritism their father Jacob shows to Joseph, his youngest son. They decide to be done with him and toss him in a pit. He survives to be taken as a slave. The musical plays out this drama and the adventures that follow for Joseph.
While the musical has been produced steadily over the decades, a production with Donny Osmond as Joseph gained attention in the 1990s as it toured the United States. I caught that production in Chicago and found it surprisingly strong. I was particularly and unexpectedly charmed by Osmond.
Coming into the Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS) production, I expected to be equally charmed. MTS has been consistently delivering lovely musicals. Instead of just charmed, I was amazed. Like many rock/pop musicals, most of the story is told in song. From the opening song by the Narrator (Christy Burbank), the energy starts building, and it doesn't let up until the last note.
The production is co-directed by Jessica Quindlen and Staci Robbins, with Quindlen also taking on the duties of choreographer. Robbins has a lifetime of experience in theatre direction and education. As for Quindlen, this is the first time I've seen her work behind the scenes. She's been consistently powerful as an actor in musicalsmost recently as Bonnie in the excellent Bonnie and Clyde at MTS. Now she can add a very fine turn as director and choreographer to her resume.
Much as I was impressed by Osmond's touring show, the production by MTS is actually much more powerful, and tons funnier. Both of the lead roles, the Narrator and Joseph, are terrific. Burbank as the Narrator squeezes every little laugh out of the lyrics and delivers just the right body language for additional humorous panache. Xavier Visage as Joseph is pure delight. He absolutely exudes that youngest-child felicity. He is dear, sincere and goofy. It's a lovely performance.
The whole cast is a powerhouse of energy and focus, mostly aiming for a wide range of humor, from slapstick to irony to vaudevillian sexiness. I usually sit in the front row, which was a good decision for this production. I felt swept up into the action. The cast brings the whole room up in the dance and drama. And the energy keeps building and buildingnever over the top, but just right.
The eye for detail by Quindlen and Robbins is delightful. So many times when the action is focused on center stage, Burbank as the Narrator and Visage as Joseph are moving the characters forwardsometimes subtly, sometimes overtlyeven when they are not at the center of things. This is a wonderful technique I've seen in Quindlen's acting, where she explicitly plays out her character's body language and facial expressions even when the focus is elsewhere. It is not overdone to the point of being distracting, but actually plays as a treat.
The set designers and builders, Wendie and Mike Cutcher, have put together a practical and effectively trim set. The costumes by Joseph Gurule are wonderful. All the production folks deliver well, including stage manager Jordon Embree, lighting designer Joel McKenzie, properties designer Cherie O'Keefe, sound designer Alex Semeraro, and production coordinator Vicki Marie Singer. Carla Erickson leads an admirable small orchestra. This is an absolutely first-rate production that well deserved its enthusiastic standing ovation.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, through April 29, 2018, at Musical Theatre Southwest's Black Box, 6320 Domingo Rd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. For seniors, students and ATG members, admission is $20. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at www.musicaltheatresw.com.