Review by Karen Topham, American Theatre Critics Association member; photo by North Shore Camera Club.
You’ll never get me to agree that the small stage of Lake Forest’s Citadel Theatre is a great space for putting on large cast musicals, but if you’re going to do one, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is an excellent choice. Director Robert Estrin obviously thought so, and he has brought us a Joseph with a top-notch cast that has enough talent to help us to overlook the necessity for repetitive and sometimes a bit stagnant staging that comes with fitting twelve brothers (and their father), an eight-person children’s choir, a five-member female dance chorus, a five-piece orchestra, two narrators, and a partridge in a pear tree (jk) on a stage that is nowhere near expansive enough to accommodate them.
Somehow Estrin and choreographer Jake Ganzer even manage to get a couple of raucous dance scenes going, but for the most part there is a lot of standing on stairs and platforms, though that doesn’t detract at all from the quality of the show, for this is one show that is all about the music. And Citadel comes through with shining (techni)colors. As the titular dreamer, Jacob Barton is thoroughly impressive. His mellifluous singing voice, his everyman appearance, his solid acting, and his congenial attitude serve him well, and he even plays guitar (one of several cast members to add to the orchestra). Barton is simply perfect even in such dichotomous songs as the cheerful “Any Dream Will Do” and the plaintive “Close Every Door.”
In addition to Parker, Estrin has cast not one but two narrators, and both Carmen Risi and Laura Thoresen are wonderful whether telling the story to the children’s choir, leading us through the various scenes, or dancing along with the rest of the cast. Both actresses have remarkable voices, which is a hallmark shared by this entire cast. The brothers and father Jacob (JP Thomas) have a lot of fun with such numbers as “One More Angel in Heaven” and “Those Canaan Days,” and I honestly couldn’t envision composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice ever expecting a cast to enjoy these signature songs more. But when Thomas steps out from behind the (intentionally) ridiculous beard to become Pharoah, that’s when things really get all shook up. Thomas’ Pharoah may not be the best Elvis impersonator ever to shine on a stage, but he’s certainly a ton of fun. Speaking of beards, one of the most wonderfully unexpected visual gags in Estrin’s repertoire comes when the children’s chorus dons fake beards to become the “hairy bunch of Ishmaelites” to whom the brothers sell Joseph. He also does some fabulous things with the “fab five,” as the female chorus is dubbed. Go, go, go Estrin!
The whole thing plays out on a nicely designed set by Eric Luchen that takes full advantage of the available space and is flexible enough for varied looks. Diane D. Fairchild’s lighting design is stellar, and Bob Boxer’s sound design is flawless (though one mic—unfortunately Joseph’s—did get a bit wonky the night I saw the show). Sarah Lake Rayburn’s costume design takes cues from past productions of the play but adding some nice touches. And Ryan Brewster’s music direction is top-notch.
This is a Joseph that ought to provide a well-deserved huge holiday hit for Citadel. It’s thoroughly entertaining even if (like me) you’ve seen the show more times than you can count. If you’re (somehow) new to Webber/Rice’s mostly comic treatment of the Biblical story, this production will bring you a perfect opportunity to experience this play for the first time. Either way, you’ll be well-pleased with Citadel’s Joseph, and you’ll leave humming (or singing) some of the most joyous show tunes ever composed. You won’t worry that the stage was sometimes too crowded, but you will remember the tremendous fun of the evening. And when they bring out the dreamcoat one last time, you’ll be cheering right along with everyone else for this powerful cast and this delightful production.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a Citadel Theatre production now playing at Lake Forest High School Athletic Campus, 300 S Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, through Dec 30. Check the website for specific dates, times, and tickets. Find more information about current plays in our front page recs and at theatreinchicago.com.