MOUNT CARROLL – Timber Lake Playhouse opened its 53rd season Thursday night with the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” beginning an exciting summer of music, comedy, whodunit and children’s theater that gets better every year.
This “Dreamcoat” story began as a short cantata with music by Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics by Tim Rice at a London school in 1968. It was their first public collaboration.
After “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Dreamcoat” developed and grew into an enormous success via West End of London, Broadway, Off-Broadway, and revivals picking up productions at schools and colleges along the way. From curtain to standing ovation, the show is solidly built upon songs that express the biblical tale of love, hate, jealousy, intrigue and all the emotions that tell a great story.
By its very title, the story suggests ornate attention to a costume of favorite son Jacob. TLP artistic director/choreographer James Beaudry notes, however, that less is more. The less weight of a glitzy visual, the more energy to interpret a simple story.
Thus the character of the “Dreamcoat” costume developed in crepe multi-colored ribbons, strewn about in various scenes and shapes to portray emotions, an influence of American choreographer Alwin Nikolais. The use of rainbow colors as props also symbolizes larger dreams of tolerance, rather than smaller divisions between ideologies.
Once established as a classic that carries theatrical weight, this Genesis production is open to many interpretations. While some Bible scholars might resist contemporary versions that tell and retell sacred literature, the end result of spiritual appreciation is nonetheless gripping. And, thus, Beaudry explored this concept effectively.
Most vividly portrayed was the use of movements in the first act that was a throwback of Joffrey Ballet’s “Green Table,” an anti-war piece originally created in 1967 by Kurt Jooss. The futility of peace talks is central to the idea and best expressed with song, “Joseph’s Dreams.”
Iconic 20th century choreographer Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and some 60 ballets) also found his way through this TLP production with reference to a lesser known piece, “Watermill,” a personal journey with fleeting images of struggle.
The story unfolded from scene to scene through the wonderfully versatile work of Melissa Weyn as Narrator as she segued mood through the lyrics. Humble and handsome character Joseph was carried fully by Gabriel Brown as he made a strong TLP debut.
Also in the cast and making TLP debuts were Grant Brown, Nathan Goodrich, Bethany Fay, Blake Price, Jessica Palkovic, Allison Hunt, Caroline Murrah and Christian Chambers. Returning TLP talent includes Analisha Santini, Abby Taylor and Lexie Plath whose smooth moves as Mrs. Potifar were notable. Returning is Levi Skoog of Milledgeville, a frequent local addition of talent. The rest represent the best of the best in various universities elsewhere.
Musical direction by Chicago-based Christopher Logan was key to the success of this show. The diction was clearly delivered and moved the lyrics, whether solo or group, along to a complete understanding of the tale. Lighting design by returning James Kolditz also brought the images forth.
About the play at TLP
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” runs through June 15 at Timber Lake Playhouse, 8215 Black Oak Road, Mount Carroll. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. (no show on Mondays), two 2 p.m. Sunday matinees and one 3 p.m. Saturday matinee today. Group rates available. Contact the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for more information.