By R. J. Donovan
North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly is continuing its season with a colorful production of "Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." "American Idol" contestant Anthony Fedorov (below) stars as the buff and blonde Joseph.
Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, "Joseph" began life in the late sixties as a 15 minute piece aimed at children, to be presented in schools. The presentation became so popular that is was expanded and brought to bigger and better performance spaces. London's West End beckoned in the late seventies, and a Broadway run happened in 1982.
The family-friendly "Joseph" has always included a chorus of children (usually locals) who serve as the "listeners" as the Narrator tells us all the story of Joseph, his mean brothers and his rise to fame in Egypt. The mostly sung-through evening includes humor for both adults and the kids, although at North Shore the show returns to its roots by emphasizing things meant to tickle the junior crowd.
Broadway's Jennifer Paz (of "Miss Saigon" and "Les Miserables") does a lovely job as the Narrator. As a teacher of sorts, she's on stage for the better part of the evening, guiding her young charges through the tale. We meet Joseph, with his coat of many colors, who's the favorite of his father -- which only raises the hackles of his eleven jealous brothers. To retaliate, they sell him off into slavery to two Ishmaelites who, in turn, drag him off to Egypt. There, he winds up in the house of Potiphar, where he works his way up among the servants. A setback occurs when he's thrown into prison after it appears he's been making the moves on Potiphar's wife. (He hasn't.) But in the good news-bad news department, it is in prison that he begins to interpret dreams, a talent which will carry him far ( . . . to become a star).
In Act Two, the Pharaoh's been having dreams he doesn't understand. And when he learns of Joseph's skills, he demands he be brought to him. Joseph successfully interprets the Pharaoh's dreams and becomes a celebrity.
Meanwhile, his brothers back home are suffering in the midst of a famine and head to Egypt for food -- all without knowing of Joseph's new found fame. After some heart-thumping chicanery by Joseph, everyone is reunited, forgiven and happy.
The pop score is a happy blend of ballads, calypso, rock and roll, country western and disco. The cast includes several happy turns including Gary Lynch as The Pharaoh (who's portrayed here as Elvis -- The King, get it?). One of the best production numbers is "Those Canaan Days." Always presented as a campy French bistro number, it rises several levels at North Shore as led by Daniel C. Levine (at left). He's funny and expressive and almost cartoon-like as spits, sputters and prowls the stage, holding notes beyond what seems humanly possible.
And to end where we began, there's Anthony Fedorov as Joseph. Fair or not, it's almost a knee-jerk reaction to question a reality show contestant being cast in a theatrical production. Does he or she really have the abilities to do the job? Happily, Fedorov is just fine in the title role. He's open and friendly, and the crowd cheers him on. There's certainly no heavy lifting here, but Joseph has to be able to sell the show's two most well known numbers, the sweet "Any Dream Will Do," and the more heart wrenching"Close Every Door." Fedorov conquers both, positively soaring on the final line of the latter.
As is the tradition, the show concludes with what's been termed the "Joseph Megamix." The cast returns, here all dressed in white, to present a rapid reprise of the entire evening through a pounding disco medley of all the show's big numbers. The idea being, send the crowd out into the night tapping their toes. Which is exactly what happens. As the audience files up the aisles out into the lobby, everyone is humming and bouncing their heads in the throws of afterglow. While "Joseph" started this sort of elongated finale, a variation of the same technique is used to cap "Mamma Mia!"
The only questionable choice is the overuse of the circulator elevator that rises up out of the center of the stage. I'm sure the theater is proud to have it, but using anything too much takes away whatever makes it special in the first place. More is less.
In the meantime, Anthony Fedorov is singing up a storm, swirling around in his coat of many colors, and sending the crowds humming all the way home.
"Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly through August 22. For information, call 978-232-7200.
-- Production Photos: Paul Lyden
-- OnStage Boston
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