Cedarville University Theatre finds fun and keeps the faith
It was a dark and windy night when we set off for the opening of Cedarville University’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and we wondered if we’d get there safely … and if the trip was worth it.
Director Rebecca Baker has led her young cast into the new/old production with insight and perception. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, “Joseph” was a seventies Broadway hit.
If “everything old is new again” is true, this production proves it. For the performers who knew little of Elvis or Belafonte’s calypso or suave French ballad singers, those styles were a revelation. For the audience, wonderfully bouncy students responding to peers giving their all, as well as the more mature appreciating the seventies references, it was a party.
“Joseph” is all singing, no spoken dialogue – an opera. The acoustics of the beautiful 400-seat Cedarville auditorium and the performers’ good training combine to make the lyrics and spoofy plot easily perceived.
Most will recognize the basic Old Testament story of Joseph and his 11 jealous, cruel brothers and Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar, Egyptians and the Pharaoh. His predictions of on-coming famine and the need to preserve grain, the eventual resolution with the theme of forgiveness and mercy are presented with great energy and “amazing” use of color in sets, costumes and lighting.
Director Baker made sure to introduce some cast and faculty to me after the show. Like any theatrical endeavor, this one had its challenges, including actors’ illnesses, but they wanted to talk about the camaraderie and mutual support. They were “fascinated” with the skills the creators had in bringing humor to the original story and they worked hard to balance poking fun and respecting their valued basic faith and beliefs.
Holding the plot together is the Narrator, played by Rebecca Levergood, the only one in contemporary clothes. She has a heavy vocal responsibility and interprets the songs well, moving briskly over the stage. Levergood said, “What meant the most to me was … performing in a show that has such a clear message of God’s plan of forgiveness. The most challenging … was trying to keep the words straight to all the different verses for the songs that all sound the same.”
Kyle Mottinger plays Joseph who endures the various tortures with skill, wears his colorful coat and the bare-chest slave outfit with grace while delivering his songs with consistency. Like his character, Mottinger said he “faced a few tough trials during the duration of this show and again and again got to see God’s faithfulness … I am thankful for the people who have been put in my life because of ‘Joseph.’”
Ben Lenox plays Pharaoh … or is he Elvis? He brings the house down with his big black Elvis wig, fancy footwork, dance moves and right on “hound dawg” drawl.
There are some 30 others in “Joseph,” including Jacob and his three wives and the 11 brothers and their wives. Their singing is strong and clear. They move dynamically through the different genres: beret wearing Frenchmen dining on red checked tablecloths – so very sophisticated – to can’t-stand-still rock n’ rollers energized by their own fun. It would have been nice if the program had included more specific information about which characters sang what songs. Cast bios would have been appreciated.
It is hard to believe Cedarville does not have a separate dance department because the choreography is so strong and so entertaining. Have you ever seen cowboys cartwheeling across the stage while literally keeping their hats on? It is such clever devices that bring new life to this old classic.
The confidence of the performances and the completeness of the technical aspects reflect the strength of the theatre faculty. The costumes are cleverly designed and beautifully colorful. New faculty member Joe Kucharski is the costume designer. There is a lobby video display of original sketches.
A series of truncated, triangular stacked box-like shapes reminiscent of pyramids prove very flexible as they provide stairways and thrones, opening and turning. Credit goes to senior Josiah Ryan Smith, fulfilling his senior capstone project in collaboration with Prof. Robert L. Clements who also designed the lighting, colorful and effectively adding to the overall imaginative imagery.
This is so totally a musical, and 13 musicians are credited, but where are they? Not until Music Director Beth Cram Porter, baton in hand, was brought onstage for a curtain call, did we discover the orchestra was off stage left, to provide more available stage space. Not until we met later in the lobby did we learn visual contact was done with unseen cameras and monitors. She has much to take a bow for, especially the well-trained singers.
Director Baker praised her fellow faculty members and their contributions to the completeness of the production. She also emphasized the current relevance of the story: “Joseph offers the gift of forgiveness, bringing a fractured family together.” Clearly her students understood the message.
The warmth of hospitality and strength of true belief in this colorful, energetic musical evening did make it worth the trip. We emerged to our snow-laden car and safely went slip sliding along home.
Cedarville University’s presentation of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” runs through Feb. 10 at Cedarville University, 251 N. Main St. in Cedarville. For show times, ticket information and reservations, call 937.766.3437.
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.