The kids are more than all right in spirited 'Dreamcoat'

January 19, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

At first, it might seem that the most amazing thing about the touring production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is the clever marketing ploy of casting choirs of 50 local children in each town the show visits.

Shameless though this ploy may be, it works -- not only in terms of marketing, but artistically as well.

When lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber created "Joseph" almost three decades ago, they were writing for a boys' choir. Their primary source was not the Bible, but "The Wonder Book of Bible Stories."

Though this production -- which launched a national tour at the Lyric Opera House last night -- is eons away, technologically speaking, from that first, 20-minute kids' cantata, it retains the original childlike aura.

The children's chorus -- made up of two home-grown choirs, the Charm City Choir and the Towson Children's Chorus -- is key to this mood. From the opening moment, when the youngsters run down the aisles and onto the stage, giggling all the way, they register high on the cute meter.

A storybook feel is immediately created by the book-toting Narrator (Kristine Fraelich), who introduces Joseph (Sam Harris). His first big number, "Any Dream Will Do," gives the children a chance to join in on the refrain, and they sound as adorable as they look.

They spend most of the production seated on staircases flanking the set, but their faces and voices irresistibly convey the appropriate emotions, such as wonder (when the Narrator introduces "Jacob and Sons"), or shock (when Joseph's brothers throw him into a pit in "Poor, Poor Joseph").

But the kids aren't solely responsible for maintaining the child's perspective in this large-scale production. Director Steven Pimlott has also imbued it with a spirit of fun, which takes several forms.

Sometimes it is corny and campy, as in the mock country-western number, "One More Angel in Heaven," in which a "Bonanza"-like feeling is reinforced by the tag line, "So long, Little Joe." In at least one case -- "Joseph Megamix," an excessive new finale medley -- it is ridiculously overblown. But mostly, it is delightfully juvenile, as in the brief appearance of a singing -- and spitting -- stuffed camel.

Narrator Fraelich has a fresh, wholesome quality, both in her appearance and in her sweet, clear singing. As Joseph, Harris -- best known as one of the first "Star Search" champions -- has the type of pop voice well-suited to the role. But several of his big numbers -- particularly the lovely "Close Every Door" -- are far more effective in the softer early going, before the volume and occasionally hyperbolic staging take over.

The worst offender in this respect, however, is the usually comic Elvis send-up, "Song of the King." As sung by John Ganun, as the Pharaoh, it is so over-miked that it obscures Rice's lyrics -- a real crime, since Rice is still the best lyricist with whom Lloyd Webber has ever worked.

A show with this title better have good costumes, and Mark Thompson's designs uphold the title's promise as well as the sense of fun. (I especially liked the sisters-in-law's whimsical headdresses, variously decorated with an ironing board and iron, a pepper mill, and a wine rack, complete with wine bottles.)

The show's "Prologue" tells of "a boy whose dream came true, and it could be you." For the local children in this production, "Joseph" is surely a dream they will never forget. The production is also the glitziest yet in the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts' season. It's a shame it can't stick around longer than two weeks.


Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Audio-described performances 2 p.m. Jan. 21 and 8 p.m. Jan. 24; sign-interpreted performances 8 p.m. Jan. 25 and 2 p.m. Jan. 28; through Jan. 29

Tickets: $25-$55

Call: (410) 625-1400; TDD: (410) 625-1407

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