Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s beloved classic Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, produced and directed by Patrick A’Hearn, with musical direction by Carson Eubank. This vibrant, spirited production is a must-see for fans of musical theater, and is a great choice if you’re looking to please the whole family.
The majority of the charm and popularity of this production comes from its big, flashy song-and-dance numbers. This means that the dancers need a lot of space, so instead of going wide, scenic designer Frank Foster goes tall, making the statement piece a platform staircase, which is as useful as it is impressive. With the new range of height available, the audience can get a better vantage point of the real scenery: the ensemble itself. Technical director Nathan Dunn has a rather big order with this show choice — Riverside is famed for its outstanding live orchestra, but with live music comes the notorious technical struggle between live music and vocals. It’s difficult to achieve a balance between the two, with the main issues being that live music tends to smother the vocals/dialogue, or the latter is smattered with screeching mic feedback as it tries valiantly to be clearly heard above the instruments. I see these issues often while out reviewing, but almost never at Riverside, and this show was no exception. I mention this because Joseph, besides being a fully sung-through musical, is particularly fast-paced, making the fact that the music and vocals were in harmony even more impressive. Lighting designer Michael Jarett and sound designer J. Pat Bragg must have had a good time putting together effects for this show, as so many different music and dance styles are explored! As I’ve come to expect from this venue, the technical elements remain consistent and professional.
The musical is based on the story of Joseph from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, and narrator Ashlee Waldbauer guides the audience through it, showcasing some remarkable vocal talents while doing so. Jacob (played by Alan Hoffman) has 12 sons, but easily favors his youngest, Joseph (Kyle Dalismer). One of the ways he shows his favoritism is by gifting Joseph a rather remarkable coat in the number “Joseph’s Coat,” while his brothers watch on while wearing their plain, fringed vests. Costume designer Kyna Chilcot does a fantastic job with the coat; its colorful pattern has an iridescent, prism effect, and it really is beautiful. The brothers all seethe with jealousy, of course, but the last straw comes when Joseph, who is gifted with the ability to interpret dreams, has a premonition that suggests that he will one day rule over them all (“Joseph’s Dreams”). His brothers decide to sell Joseph off to some Ishmaelites as a slave, and then tell their father that he died a tragic death. This number, “One More Angel in Heaven,” is a memorable one — it starts off poignant and grave, but once Jacob leaves, it turns into a downright celebration amongst the brothers and their wives, complete with a country-western hoedown.
Meanwhile, Joseph has become a favorite of his owner, Potiphar (played by Ian Lane). The number “Potiphar” is done in the style of the 1920s Charleston (I particularly enjoyed Stephanie Wood’s choreography in this song), and shows that Joseph’s life is meaningful and somewhat pleasant, despite his circumstances. However, after he spurns advances from Potiphar’s wife, she sets him up out of spite, and he gets thrown in jail. His life seems over, and after losing all hope in the number “Close Every Door,” Joseph’s spirits are lifted by his fellow inmates in the ’60s Go-Go-inspired “Go, Go, Go Joseph.” Joseph’s reputation as a dream interpreter finally reaches the Pharaoh in “A Pharaoh’s Story.” It’s here where Patrick A’Hearn makes a big directorial change that has an even bigger payoff — the role of the Pharaoh is traditionally played as Elvis, but in this production, the role goes to another memorable diva. Since there are a lot of great jokes about this switch that I don’t want to spoil, I won’t say exactly who Toneisha Harris portrays as the Pharoah, but I will say that she does a fantastic job, and her strong rendition of “Poor, Poor Pharaoh” is one of the most enjoyable numbers. After helping the Pharoah considerably, Joseph becomes an important leader in Egypt. Meanwhile, his brothers have fallen into extreme hardships due to widespread famine, and they decide to journey to Egypt to beg for food and resources after expressing regret over what they did to Joseph in the number “Those Canaan Days,” sung as a solemn French ballad. The brothers find themselves kneeling at the feet of the brother that they tried to destroy, and Joseph has to decide how to handle the situation.
I’ve only mentioned a sampling of the song-and-dance numbers from this show, but the variations go on and on, including numbers inspired by Caribbean calypso, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a lot going on, and while the brothers are usually lumped together as one entity, there are a few that manage to stand out above the rest with commanding vocals: Brendan Hale as Reuben, Wilson Pezzuto as Judah, and Kevin Cleary as Levi. The heart of this show, in my opinion, isn’t the plot; it’s the veritable feast of song and dance. If you think you’re signing up to sit through a couple of sobering hours of Bible study, the exact opposite is what you’ll receive. I’ll go ahead and say that personally I am not at all a religious person, and I did wonder if that would affect my interest level — nope! This was two hours of pure entertainment, and I’m sure we could all use it right now!
If you’ve got a large group, Riverside’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is crowd-pleasing at its highest form. This is one of those shows where an 8- and 80-year-old can sit next to each other, and both will thoroughly enjoy themselves!
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through July 9, 2023, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300 or purchase them online.
Adult Dinner & Show – $75 (plus applicable taxes)
Seniors (65+) Dinner & Show – $70 (plus applicable taxes)
Adult Show Only – $60
Seniors (65+) Show Only – $55
Children (3–12) Show Only – $55
There will be a $5.00 online processing fee added per ticket.
COVID Safety: Staff wears masks when working the floor (meal-service portion). Patrons are not required to be masked in the facility; but if patrons want to wear a mask, they are welcome to.