Youths put on great musical

Play: Young thespians give performances beyond their years in this spirited version of the popular Lloyd Webber musical.

July 27, 2000|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Talent Machine Company's current production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is amazing in its high-spirited cast brimming with energy, its fast-paced staging, its brilliant choreography, its fabulous sets, its dazzling costumes and its great sound and lighting.

No single performer in this 23-member cast of 12 to 19-year-olds was less than brilliant in a recent performance.

This production of "Joseph" along with the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's season opener "Jesus Christ Superstar," are this season's standouts. Together, these two early Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice collaborations have elevated local musical performance standards so high that both are destined to become benchmarks in the history of Annapolis musical theater.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" began as a 15-minute musical in 1968 marking the first collaboration of Webber and Rice. The plot is the Old Testament story of Jacob's favorite son Joseph and his 11 jealous brothers who sell him into slavery.

As a slave in Egypt, Joseph reveals a gift for prophecy that moves him up to the pharaoh's second-in-command.

Told in a delightful variety of song and dance styles - Agnes DeMille-like Rodeo-cowboy, country, calypso and early rockin' Elvis in pharaoh guise, the story is moved along by the Narrator, constantly on stage.

Recent Baltimore School for the Arts graduate Kathleen Scott is a superb Narrator, meeting every vocal, dramatic and dancing challenge, while exhibiting enormous stage presence, her beauty enhancing every scene.

As Joseph, 15-year-old Justin Merrick steps into his first major role and becomes an instant star.

Justin is totally natural with a delightful warmth that radiates across the footlights and a glorious singing voice that conveys a range of emotion with such power that it is impossible not to be moved. He can also act, and he knows how to move stylishly.

Making his farewell appearance before continuing his theater studies in New York, 17-year-old Jake Thornhill is spectacular as Pharaoh, garbed in an Elvis-like jumpsuit and making moves that even Elvis couldn't have duplicated in his heyday. Jake also sings up a storm as Pharaoh and when he plays Dan.

Another consummate pro making his farewell appearance is charmer Dan Sonntag as Napthali, doing a spirited "Benjamin Calypso" that blends the elegance of Harry Belafonte with the comedy of Carmen Miranda.

Exciting debut

A delightful surprise is the exciting TMC debut of 13-year-old Buddy Pease in the dual roles of Jacob, basically a walk-on, and the demanding role of Potiphar, which Pease plays with a sophistication beyond his years. Playing Potiphar's wife is 15-year-old Brae Keller, who displays her fantastic dance skills.

A student at Towson University, James Flanagan, gives a terrific farewell performance, singing beautifully as brother Reuben, demonstrating incredible technique by holding notes longer than seems possible. Another college-bound TMC graduate, Chris Pastin, demonstrates his remarkable grace and athleticism as Levi. The boys playing Joseph's brothers enliven the show in ensemble and deserve special acknowledgement: Greg and Devin Arbogast, Steve Love, Michael Heer, Darren Biggart and Andrew Sonntag.

Equally impressive in ensemble are the girls who play Egyptians, including Kerry Deitrick, who does some fantastic singing as the Angel; Allison Durgin; Detta Flippo; Erica Paulsen; Danae Saklas; Amy Sonntag; and Karley Willocks.

This show is probably as good a "Joseph" as we're ever likely to see in this county. It continues on weekends at Key Auditorium of St. John's College through Aug. 12. For reservations, call 410-956-0512.

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