Before there was Jesus Christ Superstar, there was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Manhattan Arts Center Theatre Company’s sparkling revival of this first Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice collaboration is currently lighting up the Grosh Performance Hall. Final shows, this week: May 1-3 evenings and May 4 matinee.
I’ve seen lots of squeeze jobs tried on what were meant to be large-scale spectacles, nearly always with sorry results, and for better or worse I’ve never been a huge Webber / Rice fan. But the energy, talent, and indeed color, of our local production totally won me over.
A couple spoiler alerts: If you’re not already familiar with rock musicals, be advised that this is one noisy number. The decibel impact of a 4-member wind / brass pit band “enriched” with prerecorded orchestral sound assisting face-mike-amped soloists, ensemble voices and a sizable children’s choir — for whose expert direction much credit to Kelsey Sheuerman — can be acoustically intimidating.
Also, if you come expecting a seriously spiritual experience, or in fact a serious experience of any sort, you’re going to be disappointed: Dreamcoat is a whimsical, some might even say irreverent adaptation of an Old Testament story. It’s comedy, at times even farce, hanging sitcom on a familiar script. If such offends, be warned.
That said, the production values of this MAC presentation are impressive, even by MAC’s usually high standards. Given a cast of this size, just getting costumes for all of them would be a challenge. Getting them decked out in such stunning garb, often with wardrobe changes, is an eye-popping achievement all on its own. Topping it off, a to-die-for dreamcoat that survives to be donned anew in the triumphant finale.
Coordinating and balancing sound and lighting, again especially given all the separate individuals, locations, and events needing to be calibrated and integrated, presents major complications, yet except for an occasional peep of feedback the night I attended, the crew in the booth gave us a remarkably smooth ride.
One of the most vexing questions of how to manage a large cast in a small zone is simply crowd control, just keeping people from running into one another. To further give their movement grace and charm requires choreographers of rich but practical imagination and a cast with the skills to execute the plan. Happily we had both.
Among the dozens of contributors to this show’s success, a few deserve special mention. First off, in the title role, Randy Rhoten who, in addition to singing and acting with magnetic assurance, also designed those splendid costumes and helped Laura Vallejo with the choreography. He’s reason enough alone to make this Dreamcoat worth seeing.
But if his is the production’s most conspicuous role, our Narrator, Dianne Paukstelis, may well be its MVP, because she’s not just an all-around rock-solid performer, she lends a stability to the story’s many twists and turns, is an ongoing on-stage monitor of operations, at the ready to manage any crisis that might emerge.
Pete Paukstelis’s star turn as the “Kingly” Pharaoh is sensational, and of course Shel Edelman (Jacob) is always a joy to watch. I got a personal kick out of the varied antics of Daniel Myers-Bowman’s Reuben.
Congratulations to Director Fred Burrack and Assistant Director Penny Cullers for overseeing so delightful an entertainment.