By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Among things you can see in Dallas Theater Center's production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Wyly Theatre: Old Testament characters playing basketball and plugged into iPods; a giant wooden pyramid that breaks apart like a cool toy from a museum gift shop; 20 cute kids wearing Groucho nose-glasses; a puppet sheep; an inflatable rubber raft; the character Potiphar (the Egyptian millionaire who buys Joseph as a slave) zipping onstage on a three-wheeled scooter, looking like Iggy Pop; cheerleaders bouncing around in tiny sequined bra tops; Joseph steppin' with guys dressed in cut-off sweats emblazoned with "Go! Go!" on the butts; and the Pharaoh done up like a cross between Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, in a tight white jumpsuit and peroxide pompadour, reclining on a circular bed under an IV filled with Mrs. Butterworth's pancake syrup, being fed spoonfuls of Crisco by his harem of dancing girls.
A good trip, as it turns out. A crazy-feelgood trip way, way back into the Book of Genesis and a long way from all the modest Sunday school versions of this show you may have seen in the past. This bright, brash Joseph comes laden with silly-stupid anachronistic visuals, high-flyin' dancers and more cheap-but-effective gimmicks than a Las Vegas magic act. If you're easily distracted by shiny things — look! Dancing with flashlights!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Through August 5 at the Wyly Theatre,
2400 Flora St., 214-880-0202.
DTC's associate artistic director Joel Ferrell, who has directed and choreographed this hyperactive pageant, has taken what was a sweet little 20-minute cantata, written by the young Webber and Rice in 1968 for an English boys-school choir, and spun it into a comic cloud of Joseph cotton candy. It's a two-hour big-budget spectacle, sprawling across the full width of the Wyly stage and then some, with extra acreage on an additional thrust into the audience.
Scenic designer Bob Lavallee has covered the back wall and revolving side panels with cartoony images from Bible stories in a style that says Cecil B. DeMille as interpreted by '60s psychedelic artist Peter Max. Costumes by Wade Laboissonnierre suggest everything from the waitstaff of the night shift at the Luxor casino to finalists on America's Best Dance Crew headed to an Egyptian-themed Halloween orgy at Cher's.
Yet it's all supremely family-friendly — if your family is into pop musicals as plastic as a Pez dispenser.
From underneath all the tinsel and tat, however, the fable about Joseph and his 11 jealous brothers still manages to come through. Unhappy that their father Jacob (DTC company member Chamblee Ferguson) has given Joseph a pretty patchwork coat, the boys sell their sibling into slavery and then tell Pops he's dead. Owned by Iggy-Potiphar (Ferguson again, more hilarious with each scene), Joseph is caught doing sexytime with Mrs. Potiphar (Christie Vela) and tossed into prison. When he begins interpreting dreams that come true, he's sent to meet the Pharaoh (Ferguson again, dolled up like skinny Elvis). Joseph's success as a dream analyst sets him free, and he's reunited with his family. His final dilemma is whether to choose bros before Pharaohs, but it all turns out right in the end. He even gets another fancy coat — and this one lights up in the dark during a finale that reprises every blessed song in the whole blasted show. (In this extravagant production, the only letdown is that the last coat doesn't shoot dollar bills out of its sleeves or throw off pinwheels of sparks that turn into white butterflies that flutter in close formation out onto Ross Avenue.)
This Dreamcoat even has its own dreamboat in imported lead actor Sydney James Harcourt, playing the title role completely seriously while all around him swirl the painted ponies of a musical merry-go-round. Shirtless for most of the evening, Harcourt, who was Tin Man in last summer's The Wiz at DTC, sings and acts like a dream and boasts abs and pecs so expressive they deserve their own billing. On one of his soulful solos, "Close Every Door," you'll swear his sleek chest muscles are performing their own dance moves. Who needs Magic Mike when you have a gorgeous Joseph from Canaan able to do that?
The whole cast is totes adorbs, especially the guys playing the brothers in a diverse cast of many colors: young Liam Taylor as tiny Benjamin (alternating with Ben Villaseñor), alongside grown-up singer-dancers Jeremy Dumont, Alex Ross, Kent Zimmerman, Josh A. Dawson, Jacob Gutierrez, Rashaan James III, JP Moraga, Bob Reed, Jamard Richardson and Michael Anthony Sylvester. The youth chorus members are talented kids found in auditions at Oak Cliff and South Dallas community centers.
This production also marks the return to the Wyly stage of the great Liz Mikel, back from Broadway, where she starred in the now-closed musical Lysistrata Jones. She's Joseph's singing narrator. The songs aren't in her key (Mikel's thunderous alto can blow back your hair on a good night and this part was written for a soprano) but she's such a warm presence with her beautiful eyes and happy smile that it hardly matters. Above all, consider Joseph the act of the theater gods that got Mikel back to Dallas. Can I get an amen?
Something sweet and wonderful is going on at the tiny company in Plano called Fun House Theatre and Film. They just ended a one-weekend run of Laughter in the Stars, an adaptation of the beloved novella The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Fun House founder Jeff Swearingen wrote the script, directed the show and played the Fox. Dallas actor Shane Beeson played the Pilot, whose plane crashes in a desert where he meets a strange little boy-prince who seems to be from another planet. Beeson's 10-year-old son Jaxon played the title role. Talent runs in that family.
Andy Baldwin, just off WaterTower's hit Boeing-Boeing, made a guest cameo appearance as the Snake. Young Kennedy Waterman had some extraordinarily touching moments as Rose, the little flower-friend to whom the Little Prince is so devoted. What focus this young lady has.
This was a simple show in a small black-box space, done on a budget below shoestring. Projected pictures on a wall took the place of painted sets. Costumes were everyday clothes suggesting characters. In the cast of kids playing multiple roles, some were a bit awkward and a couple rushed dialogue. But the final impression echoed the book's quiet messages about love and imagination. It was a fine little show.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat may be the brand of high-end entertainment that parents think makes kids enjoy theater. But it's often small pieces like Laughter in the Stars that give children, onstage and in the audience, a chance to see how real art can be achieved, created without bells and whistles, but with loads of heart.
Fun House Theatre and Film's next show is the musical Man of LaMancha, also directed by Swearingen. It will feature only kids in the cast. It opens September 13.