By Steve Odenthal
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now playing at The Peery Egyptian Theatre in Ogden, Utah is no stranger to me. I encountered the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics of Tim Rice early in my college years and quickly discovered the profound effect live theatre can have on those who are in tune with it. I was very glad that to find that the magic to transform and immerse is still there, or should I say is still available today at the Egyptian Theatre. You will want to see this one.
It’s all there for you and yours to experience and enjoy as a fully family-friendly performance so real that when you are on your feet after the show, your first instinct is to knock the desert dust from your sandals—even if you are like me and wear loafers. So, how do they perform this magic? Hey, the play is set in Egypt and we are watching in the Egyptian Theatre, so grab a pith helmet and let’s explore.
The chief spellbinder in this production is the Director (Maurie Tarbox). It was obvious quite early in the performance that each actor was in love with the show. That is always what you want from a cast, but sitting in the audience there was something more and it was contagious. We truly were in Egypt. The physical facilities we all—cast and audience alike— occupied is an historic restoration of the Egyptian theatre built in 1924; a time the world was entranced by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The stage itself is built to be a plaza between two great Egyptian temples stage-right and stage-left. Tarbox had to walk a very tight rope to not overwhelm, but rather immerse her actors and audience in this shared reality. With the simplistic choices in set design (Ricky Parkinson) and rich selection in costuming (Joanne Hatch), Tarbox’s production team placed each of us in a comfortable environment from the very start of the show.
The audience needs a great story. That means a story with some historic truth and strong emotion everyone can relate to—like the biblical story of Jacob (Brett Garlick) and his 12 sons. There is a just bit of sibling rivalry within this family. The rivalry plays out onstage in this production as the favored Joseph (Jared Morgan) is sold by his brothers into slavery (they had considered worse) and then we track the life changes this little dust-up produces in poor, poor Joseph’s life, as well as the lives of his fine brothers.
And what a rag-tag mob of brothers Joseph has—they manage to keep the undercurrent of disgruntlement and sentiment bubbling right to the surface and it is truly fun to watch them express their heartfelt feelings for Joseph, slyly displaying them from a safe location away from his field of vision. This feat is accomplished in a very subtle use of triangles and modular groupings of flat levels which give the proper separation and distance to make these asides believable. This effect played so very well when brother Simeon (Joe Johnson) is trusted with breaking some sad news about Joseph to his father as Johnson emotes through the classic song, “One More Angel” and the brothers & wives intertwine with the festive “HoeDown”, every bit of the stage and every angle or level is incorporated into a masterpiece of choreography (Liz Smith.) There is definitely no lack of thought or depth to this set and the design only gets better as the show goes on.
For his part, Joseph is well cast with Morgan’s boyish look and pleasant voice but I found that I had to warm to him a bit. Most Joseph’s I see perform the role are from the start large and in charge, easily believable as a leader. In this production, Joseph seemed to share an almost too trusting relationship with his brothers, right up until he is sold. He believes, you can tell, that this is just good fun with the brothers (although it is getting a bit out of hand.) Then in my mind, I realized that this young man was the second to youngest of the brothers and so his innocent vision of his heroes might just cause him to want to play along, for a while at least. This might just be the perfect way to play the role. We see Joseph grow in the show, not just the brothers’ change.
I enjoyed the staging of Potiphar (Brett Garlick) and Mrs. Potiphar (Karllen Johnson) in their mansion with the choice to keep the large separation of husband from wife as he counts money and she attempts to stray. It was very effective to see their opulence versus the purity and simplicity of Joseph’s attire as a contrast to help us focus on the clash of good and evil. There were lots of opportunities taken to show the audience emotional contrasts. For example, the Baker (Austin Toney) sits dejectedly stage-right as his dream as interpreted by Joseph is not going to work out in his favor while the rest of the cast gives their all in a rambunctious “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” number that delights in our hero’s power to decipher hidden meanings. Never breaking out of his funk entirely, our condemned Baker draws enormous solace from a beautiful cupcake accepting both his fate and a well-frosted beard while entertaining those of us who caught his struggle.
The brothers and their wives in this production really work as a team. These wives are not your run-of-the-mill appendages to the brothers—they hold their own and seem to have a real relationship with their assigned brother. At times, the brothers are even brought up short by their wives in a good-natured way, but I will let you find out about that when you attend. I will say that you must be paying attention to their maneuvers especially in the “Those Canaan Days” number. You will be delighted by the pay-off to the wives in that number for sure. My hat (or pith helmet) is off to Smith for the way she has choregraphed the entire show but especially as she brought these two very talented teams of dancers together.
The Pharaoh (Justin Brown) is beyond good. In most Josephs, we know well on whom the character is based. This time, I was not so sure. I’m thinking that the megastar we knew so well might have styled his persona on Brown. He seemed so secure in his own skin without letting the impersonation suffer at all. Good job, there—You will enjoy his portrayal.
The Narrator (Meghan Parrish) is seamless and doesn’t miss a beat. Being familiar with the show, there were times that I found myself anticipating her arrival a bit, but she always hit her mark and note. Under her guidance, we were swept into the story completely from the very start. She took our hands like we were the children on the stage with Joseph.
Speaking of the children in the cast (Childrens Dream Chorus), you could tell that they knew the show and were very aware of the preciseness of the presentation. They smiled believably at the proper times and every time they were on stage I believed that they were in awe of Joseph. A good cast, for sure.
The only issue that I experienced during the performance that was at all negative was a few instances where mics and speakers were experiencing sound issues. The three mishaps were of short (seconds) duration and not during dialog or music. I am sure the remedy has been attended to as we thoroughly enjoyed the production without further incident.
You should take your family to this show. I think that there is something for everyone at the Peery’s Egyptian Theatre in the production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. There are laughs, quiet moments (not many), and great joy in store for you. This show only has four more performances left at this exceptional theatre. You will be amazed at what you find beyond the lobby and on the stage. This beautiful restoration of Peery’s Egyptian Theatre holds over 800 patrons and is right downtown in Ogden next to great restaurants and shopping. Parking is available and mostly free in the area. Pricing of tickets are $15 and $20 dependent upon your proximity to the stage.
Don’t miss Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Peery’s Egyptian Theatre 2415 Washington Blvd. Ogden, Utah. This dream will definitely do.
Ogden Musical Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Peery’s Egyptian Theatre, 2415 Washington Blvd, Downtown Ogden, Utah 84401 August 17-19 7:30 PM Tickets: $15, $20 Call: 801-689-8700 Facebook Page