The Saville Theatre is bustling with energy from City College students as they move through their final rehearsals of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for the upcoming spring musical.
“I love the surprise. I love the variety. I love the sweetness of the show. Right now I think it’s time for some sweetness,” explains June Richards, one of City College’s drama professors and director of the show. “It’s just very complicated to ‘be.’ And live. And survive and make a living and feed your family and children … because we’ve never had a recession so complicated. So (‘Joseph’) is the antidote to the recession.”
The musical is a sung-through retelling of the biblical story of Joseph, his multicolored coat, his twelve envious brothers, and his perseverance over degradation into slavery and ultimately his rise to fame and power within Egypt’s royalty.
The musical identifies the protagonist’s journey through a jovial demonstration of a belief in something bigger than oneself, and, per Rice’s lyrics, no matter what, “at the end of the tunnel there’s a glimmer of light.”
Tyler Vess, in his first endeavor into portraying a title character on the City College stage, examines Joseph’s struggle, after his twelve brothers sell him into slavery for a mere pittance of a few silver coins. Joseph’s soliloquy-like song, “Close Every Door,” which follows the dastardly transaction, depicts the hero at the end of his rope, in a dank jail cell, having been stripped of literally everything “including the shirt on his back,” says Vess. However, “even if you’ve had everything taken from you, you can build your way back up and be on top,” he explained.
Richards has produced and directed the show twice before. She believes that while the over-arching theme of the musical is not meant to “plumb the depths of one’s soul,” it creates “an absolutely joyful movement from mood to mood.” Laughing, she adds “It’s almost like a potpourri of all the musical elements one would see in a lifetime-calypso, 60s boogaloo-all with the element of surprise. It has this joie de vivre, this great joy of living because (Webber and Rice) wrote it in the 60s. And what was wrong with the 60s? Absolutely nothing.”
There is certainly an element of surprise around every corner which caters to music lovers of every genre, including an unexpected appearance of a rockabilly Pharaoh who is reminiscent of a jump-suited-hip-swinging Elvis.
With a veritable pantheon of musical styles and dance, “Joseph” has presented a number of challenges for the ensemble of newcomers and veterans of the stage alike.
Veteran Rebekah Ensley, who plays the role of the omnipresent Narrator, recalls her fear of heights upon the initial staging of the show. The playful set, with a wistful vignette covering the proscenium, includes a six-foot high ramped platform that the actors traverse throughout the production. “It used to be eight feet … my forehead was almost at the lights,” said Ensley.
When asked of his particular challenges in taking on the role of Joseph, Vess went on to explain that one of hardest aspects of the show is “running around and having to sing. There’s a lot of running up and down [the platform] and then having to project. I feel like I have to run a mile while singing.”
The difficulties of this production, however, are not solely limited to its physical demands. Ensemble member Taymar Holmes expressed her challenge in overcoming the lyrics to one of the songs that requires the chorus to belt out twenty-nine, somewhat unusual, colors of the rainbow in rapid succession. “The one that I always screw up is ochre,” she laughed. “Who says ochre? I don’t even know what ochre is.” She excused the use of these unfamiliar words with a smile, adding, “Well, that’s British humor for you.”
As a final note, Richards encouraged the people of San Diego to “come and laugh, enjoy, and forget your troubles. It’s about entertainment. It is a gift to our college community as well as our surrounding community.”
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” runs from April 1 to 17, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. in the Saville Theatre.
General admission is $15, $10 for students, children, military personnel, and seniors. More information is available at 619-388-3676, or email June Richards at [email protected]