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arts & leisure

A Night at the Theatre: Forestburgh’s “Joseph” is a dream of biblical proportions

Michael Starr (as Joseph) holds the fate of his conniving brothers in his hands in the creative musical interpretation of the biblical story at the Forestburgh Playhouse.

By Jonathan Fox
June 20, 2013

The Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP) knows its way around a musical and the theatre’s sparkling production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” illustrates the point nicely. It doesn’t hurt to have a hummable score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, along with a fast-paced book, i.e. the script, and clever, clever lyrics by Tim Rice, the dynamic duo behind “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Like the latter, “Joseph” is based on a biblical story—an imaginative retelling of the young soothsayer, his "coat of many colors", dastardly brothers and being sold into slavery, followed by his rise to fame as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. While decidedly tongue-in-cheek, at the heart of the story a cautionary tale still beats and by the time the curtain fell, I was in love with the show and its message. As is often the case, the intimate barn theatre space itself is part of the experience, and its size allows some productions to glitter in a shower of creative set and lighting design (by Trevor Frederiksen and Michael O’Connor, respectively).

Gretchen Halle’s costuming was fresh and colorful (pun intended) and the small pit of musicians produced a big, pitch-perfect sound (thank you!) under the very capable guidance of conductor Kevin Lawson.

Director/choreographer Dann Dunn returns to the playhouse for a fourth season and his experience as an award-winning musical theatre helmsman serves him well, supported by an equally talented ensemble that follows his lead admirably, as they approach each wildly different number with strong vocals and nimble moves. Fast paced and funny (with a few touching moments sprinkled in) the show is short and sweet and the performers were clearly having as much fun as the audience, which really propelled the production throughout.

With 24 songs in total, “Joseph” is more music than spoken word, and relies heavily on its narrator (songstress Jessica Wagner) to relate the story to the children's choir, comprised of 11 adorable, local kids getting a chance to strut their stuff with the cast. In my eyes (and to my ears) Wagner can do no wrong. She has breathed vivid life into several memorable characters at the FBP in past seasons, and her vocal prowess continues to enthrall in “Joseph.” Wagner has amazing (pun intended) skills that allow her to whisper, belt and rock-on in any genre, a unique talent that is put to the test by virtue of the vocal calisthenics that Webber is famous for.