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OPINION: Christian school’s ‘Joseph’ marvelous

April 25, 2013
The Herald-Star

WINTERSVILLE - Vibrant color and immense joy overflowed Jefferson County Christian School's new auditorium, where for a brief time, the school celebrated its first musical in its new location with a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," a retelling of the Biblical account of Joseph, Interpreter of Dreams.

The musical, directed by the school's drama and music teacher Susan Bullard, provided eye-catching splendor, splendid choreography and enormous quantities of humor, but its most enduring capability lay in its ability to move audiences with its sincerity.

Gifted with the ability to accurately interpret dreams, and showered in the immense affection of his father who gives him a gorgeous multicolored coat as a symbol of his adoration, Joseph, a godly young boy, is sold into slavery by his terribly jealous 11 brothers. Many are the hardships that befall Joseph as he traverses life as a slave, but soon his innate talent for understanding others' dreams affords him the opportunity to work for Egypt's pharaoh, who finds his skills most remarkable. Working alongside the King of Egypt as his eventually fully-trusted assistant, Joseph's harrowing journey proves greatly purposeful.

As the musical's central character, Nic Marshall emitted a great deal of soothing tenderness. His undeniably unbiased sincerity when encountering those in jail and in his relationship with Pharaoh, peppered by a subtle and endearing sense of humor, created a terrifically pleasing and poignant portrayal. Marshall's soft and smooth vocal performances of such songs as "Any Dream Will Do" and "Close Every Door" enhanced the production with a pure and gentle sound.

Unique to the school's staging of the Lloyd Webber piece, two student actresses, Meadow Jackson and Theresa Recznik, undertook the role of Narrator, a character who, while recounting Joseph's formidable journey to a group of young children and to the audience, is able to penetrate the Biblical world and interact with all of the figures within the tale. Jackson and Recznik, who were responsible for singing the majority of the score together with very little offstage time, possessed lovely and very capable singing voices, which complimented each other very pleasingly. The distinctive personalities emanated by the identically-clad actresses, however, brought an engaging sense of individuality to the production.

Shaking up the house was Jon Anderson's riotously funny interpretation of Pharaoh, the Egyptian king who initially employs Joseph as a slave but who, after experiencing his astounding talent for analyzing dreams, makes him his second-in-command. Written as an Elvis Presley prototype, Anderson, donning a puffy jet-black wig complete with sideburns and a white suit very comparable to the one made famous by Presley, totally adopted the King's swagger as he imposingly sauntered about the stage, and even into the audience, to the accompaniment of his female followers' screams of uncontainable affection. Anderson also fully mastered Presley's famous facial expressions and vocal quality as he crooned "Song of the King" and "Stone the Crows."

Also giving outstanding performances were Chris McGurn and Matthew Townsend as two of Joseph's brothers, Simeon and Judah, respectively. As Simeon, McGurn perfectly led the French-influenced number "Those Canaan Days," a song in which Jacob and his sons bemoan their current famine-stricken circumstances and the brothers, in the presence of their still-grieving father, fain sadness at the absence of Joseph. With a slick French accent and an even slyer and insincere tone, McGurn's obvious sarcasm while Simeon pretends to miss Joseph's "entertaining" dreams, and his false woes over the disappearance of his brother, flawlessly suited the humor of the song and brought a delightfully wily aspect to his portrayal.

Matthew Townsend's interpretation of "The Benjamin Calypso," a number in which his Judah attempts to convince the now very powerful Joseph, to whom the brothers have come seeking food unaware that the indomitable figure before them is their brother, that their sibling Benjamin is innocent of stealing a royal cup, which Joseph slipped into his sack while he was preoccupied by eating in order to alarm them. Throughout the perky routine, Townsend's thoroughly unabashed and carefree attitude provided terrific humor.

A great deal of other comical moments arose throughout the Christian school's interpretation of the musical. Two of the most amusing moments occurred in the second act. During the moment when Joseph is distributing food to his starving brothers, they were given such provisions as a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket, a Taco Bell bag and a soft drink. Marshall's Joseph also earned laughs as he rode on his golden chariot, which was actually an electric scooter which he stood and rode upon.

The intricate and colorful costuming, including the richly colored thick material of the tunics worn by the brothers and their wives and the lovely white detailed dresses worn by the female Egyptians gave the production a very sophisticated and period air; while the expansive stage's unique layout allowed for numerous locales to be easily hidden and revealed. Also, most striking among the production's lighting capabilities was a moment in which the stage became awash in every singular color included in Joseph's magnificent garment as they were individually sung.

Involving a myriad of dance styles, such as go-go dancing, a Wild West number and the immensely entertaining calypso routine, the cast's execution of Cheryl Pompeo's astoundingly lively and difficult choreography proved thrilling to behold.

Anchoring their interpretation of the predominately unreligious musical was the Christian school's addition of a Biblical Scripture. In this production, after Joseph has revealed himself to his amazed and repentant brothers, Marshall's Joseph proclaims Genesis 50:20, where Joseph states that God used his suffering for a righteous purpose in spite of his brothers' malicious plans. By ending the production with a shortened reprise of "Close Every Door," in which Joseph declares the promise of a heavenly home at the end of life's toils, audiences were urged to think on the eternal significance of the story.

Featuring an exuberate and highly talented cast of over 50 students, including a choir of elementary school children, Jefferson County Christian School's most recent musical endeavor proved an irresistible delight for the eye and ear, and especially for the heart.

(Sarah Reed is theater critic for Weekender.)

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