by Terrance Mc Arthur
It started as a 15-minute pop cantata by a schoolboy (Andrew Lloyd Webber) and a wannabe songwriter (Tim Rice). Along with the fame of the creators, it grew with each staging, until it became a full-size musical…and it’s based on a story from the Bible’s book of Genesis. It’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now on stage at the Reedley Opera House under the banner of the River City Theatre Company, and it’s a joyous, cheeky way to spend an hour or two.
If you went to Sunday School as a child, you should know the story: Joseph (Erik Valencia) makes his eleven brothers jealous because he’s the favorite of their father, Jacob, a.k.a. Israel (Jeff Lusk), and his dreams say he’s better than they are, so his siblings sell him as a slave and send him off to Egypt, where he works for Potiphar (Lusk, again). Thrown into prison while trying to avoid his boss’s wife (Lana Rotan), his ability to interpret dreams gets the attention of the Pharaoh (Lusk, one more time), where he rises to the top, saves the country, and gets to take sweet revenge on his brothers.
All of this is told with a minimum of dialogue and a whole lot of songs, sampling genres that include country-western, go-go-boot pop, French ballads, soft-shoe, Elvis, and calypso. The lyrics are clever, and the music is infectious. You’ll be whistling the tunes…if you can whistle.
Valencia is big-eyed and grinning, stalwart and naïve as he makes Biblical history. His wig does make him look a lot like Weird Al Yankovic. He really opens up on “Close Every Door to Me,” and his “Any Dream Will Do” finale is rousing.
The ubiquitous Lusk is buried in mounds of white hair as Jacob, shameless and self-satisfied as Potiphar (with a bumper crop of chest hair), and lip quivering and super-cool as the Pharoah (with a massive pompadour that never moves, despite his gyrations).
Cady Mejias was incandescent in River City’s Jekyll & Hyde, and was dominating in Clue: The Musical. Here, she is the Narrator, not only commenting on the action, but actively participating in the numbers. The sly twinkle of her eye, her smoldering agility during the French apache-tango interlude of “Those Canaan Days” with Brady Crenshaw (Dan, a part he played in last year’s Good Company Players production), make her unforgettable.
Rotan is exceedingly come-hither as the wayward wife with Mrs. Robinson tendencies, turning seduction into a Bowflex exercise. Rene’ Mendel is blustery and hapless as the Baker sharing Joseph’s prison cell (She also plays his brother Levi; several of the brothers are gender-blind casting.). Michael Westpy powers “Those Canaan Days” with an authority befitting an actor who has played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Young Sam Applegate as Benjamin manages to smoothly slide across the Opera House stage on his bottom. Jason Awbrey (Napthali) and Angel Antuna (Issachar) add strength to the corps of “children of Israel.”
Frances Mejias performs magic with her costumes, blending Egyptian style with character identification. Lillie Valencia is still wig-stylist to the stars in Reedley. Glenda Stewart gets the cast boot scooting and energetically moving. Director Steve Jones discarded some of the traditional shtick associated with the show, but put in some new ideas.
By the way, the sinful slice of chocolate cake with drizzles and peppermint crumbles is a great dessert at intermission.
The Reedley Opera House is at 1720 10th St, Reedley. Purchase tickets on their website or by calling their box office at 559-638-6500.
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