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Enthusiastic crew brings biblical tale to life; CCA’s Joseph a colorful story

March 31, 2012

Photo Courtesy CCA

Courthouse Center for the Arts presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through April 15. For tickets and more information call 782-1018 or visit www.courthousearts.org.

WEST KINGSTOWN - Some things require a specific interest or an acquired taste to really enjoy. Stories from the bible and musical theatre are two of these things, in that while they have their artistic place and cultural value, they are usually not on the list of children’s favorite pastimes.

However, the right mix of art and action, story and stage, can transform most any old tale into a feast for the eyes and ears. The cast and crew responsible for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Courthouse Center for the Arts (CCA) in West Kingston have managed this with a classic musical theatre production.

Running through April 15, Joseph is a famous play written by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice based on the biblical story from the Book of Genesis. According to CCA, the play has been through over 20,000 productions word-wide for the last 40 years.

The family-friendly story follows the protagonist, Joseph (played by Billy Steeves), throug his rocky journey across Egypt, where he falls from grace and rises up again. Joseph has many brothers, but he is his father Jacob’s (Edwin Kane) favorite. His brothers get jealous, and do something awful, but Joseph’s ability to read and interpret dream helps him stay afloat even when it seems he has hit rock bottom.

The play is completely sung, so it lacks dialogue in between songs to carry the plot along. However, the songs themselves have action and dialogue, and the dynamics to change the mood from excited to sad at every refrain.

Joseph at CCA may lack expensive props, awe-inspiring effect and a complex, landscape-altering set, but the show more than makes up for it with enthusiasm. The cast is vibrant, and their chemistry is evident both in the physical sense, and the sounds of their harmonizing voices.

From the play’s narrator, to Joseph and his many brothers, and even the multiple young children in complimentary roles, all display the confidence and courage to sing their hearts out and leave all their emotion on stage. It is a collaborative effort among talented singers and actors that gives the show its life and soul, of which it has plenty.

As a part of its “Broadway in the Courtroom” series, CCA Artistic and Executive Director Richard Ericson pulls the string on Joseph, and uses the full space and potential of CCA’s Woodcock Theatre to make the show strong and powerful.

The coat that Joseph wears was designed by Sarah Campbell, and truly is a magical piece of clothing. At the play’s finale, the coat becomes even more of a spectacle and will leave audiences with a lasting sense of imagery as they head for the exits.

Campbell is a local designer who has worked on various theatre productions and events all across the country. She is a native of South Kingstown, and is happy to be working in her hometown.

“It’s a costume, but beyond a costume,” said Campbell of her dreamcoat, via a press release. She said she wants the coat to fill the room, be the centerpiece of the show and leave audiences speechless.

The play’s director, Richard Sabellico, is an award-winning New York-based musical theatre veteran, who has worked on Joseph many times. Sabellico has never changed the play in the past, but in this production, attempts to bring a fresh and interesting eye to it.

Some of the sharpest and freshest aspects of the show are those that make it most timely. It is certainly hard to sell a biblical plot-line to the digital age, but young ancient Egyptians carrying cell-phones help bridge the gap.

The music also helps bring a variety of ears to life. An old school rock and roll Elvis Presley impersonation by the Pharaoh of Egypt was funny as well as lively. One musical number had a salsa feel, complete with sombreros and maracas.

Some of the actors even picked up instruments at one point. When Joseph’s brothers were performing a song about their loathed brother, two guitars and a tuba helped round out a small blues trio that provided a home-cooked sound that took the audience away from the barrage of classic theatre singing, even if just for a short time.

All the while the show is being played, a small house combo of piano drums and bass carry the tunes from behind the only prop– a sizable wooden structure that serves many purposes in most every scene.

All in all, the show is fun and well-performed. It may not provide tantalizing plot-intrigue, sensational effects, tension or mystery, but it is not meant to. It is the living embodiment of an ancient tale that uses music as its only carriage. It’s like going to see a broadway show right on Route 138.

For tickets call 782-1018 or vist www.courthousearts.org.

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