The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Organization Take Note Troupe
Date(s) of show November 13-21, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review I’ll confess it at the start. I love Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I’ve seen three productions of the show, and each one has delighted me. I didn’t think I could be surprised by another version, but what I saw at the opening night of Take Note Troupe’s production dazzled me: it was just bursting with creativity. I saw TNT’s Seussical a year ago, and it was a cute send-up of that imaginative musical. With Joseph, though, TNT has moved from “cute” to “spectacular.” The show I saw on Friday night represented an extraordinary degree of planning, creativity, and coordination.

They pulled it off by applying the principles they have developed. In fact, you might call this a missionary organization — not in the religious sense — but in the sense of promoting life skills and community. There is this from their website: “We believe in producing family-friendly, fun, uplifting shows that engage, educate, encourage and entertain. Our mission is to strengthen our society one performance and workshop at a time.” The “workshop” part of that consists of events offered to organizations and institutions that foster creativity and self-actualization through “play” — games based on a series of “principles” (visit Not surprisingly, the other major thread of TNT’s activity is monthly improv shows, and I could see the result of improv training in this production.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a retelling of the Biblical story of the vicissitudes of Joseph that eventually led to him guiding Egypt through famine and reconciling with the brothers who had betrayed him. The story can be inspiring, but it’s the wonderful pop, tongue-in-cheek music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that carries the show, and TNT’s cast of 60+ did justice to the music and the humor that are at the heart of Webber’s and Rice’s concept.

The show began when the 30 kids in the ensemble (mostly middle-school age) and children’s choir (grade-school age) came down the theater aisles in small groups to take their positions in little choirs on opposite sides of the stage. They were dressed in shorts, polo shirts and tennis shoes, and one got the idea from the beginning that there was to be nothing ostentatious about this production. They sang the overture with the Music Director, Dana Sanders, out front with a clipboard, more as if she were directing a rehearsal than a performance. Maybe all that informality led to my surprise at how good an ensemble sound they produced, often singing in parts. And these kids participated in just about all the group numbers throughout the show, maintaining their initial quality along with the older performers. Every once in a while, I focused on a very young boy or girl, and they were always fully engaged, enthusiastic participants in each number.

The principals in this show turned in impressive performances. Joshua Sanders, was an excellent Joseph, with a strong, pleasing voice and good acting skills. Josh Simmons gave a high-energy Elvis Presley imitation as Pharaoh, and all the other more fleeting speaking or singing parts kept up the high spirits of the production. The eleven brothers and their wives were something else. They were at the heart of the major group numbers, and they were a hoot, especially the brothers — shamelessly overacting and cavorting spontaneously at each opportunity. They seem uninhibited in their interpretation of their roles, and their antics were great fun to watch. And the fun didn’t stop with the more organized dance numbers. Apart from 4 young women who had dance cameos, the 22 brothers and wives didn’t display what I would call polished dance moves, but their big musical numbers were tightly and creatively choreographed and were very entertaining to watch, at one point including some pretty impressive acrobatics.

The part of the Narrator was split among 6 young women, all with good voices and good stage presence. Frankly I think it made the Narrator role more interesting than it was in productions where a single person filled the part. As for the rest of the singing, I didn’t hear any “problem” voices among any of the soloists, and when all 60+ cast members were singing, it made a big — and very pleasing — sound, with the clever lyrics easily discernible. But what made these musical numbers work so well was the energy and spirit with which they were performed. “Go Go Go Joseph,” for example, was a major production that got the audience clapping in time to the music. Then in the second act, Josh Simmons gave a great performance in Pharaoh’s big Elvis-inspired numbers, with back-up singers who were screamingly funny. After it was over, Simmons came out with a slurred “thank you very much” à la Elvis, put on a pair of sunglasses, and started the number from the top again. I think we in the audience enjoyed it even more the second time.

It felt like each musical number had clever, creative touches that enhanced the humor. When the brothers sold Joseph into slavery, they added dark glasses and sang in a rap style that I don’t remember from other productions. In “Those Canaan Days” when the brothers were lamenting the famine, someone brought out a tray of food that was only the skeleton of a small animal. In the “Benjamin Calypso” they brought out a limbo bar, and as the number proceeded, every performer went under it.

Along with sight gags, an important part of this show was calling on the audience to use their imagination and find the fun in doing so. You had to use your imagination. For a start, there was no set to speak of. The bare stage had steps leading to an upstage platform where a few decorated columns eventually brought us to Egypt. A construction evocative of prison bars was brought in to suggest Joseph’s imprisonment, but there wasn’t much else in the nature of set pieces: just fairly simple projections on the screen at the back of the stage that gave desert scenes or whatever was needed to define the place of the action. Costumes were similarly understated. The Narrators, the brothers and their wives had costumes that seemed appropriate, Joseph had an impressive coat of many colors, and Pharaoh and the other Egyptians had costumes with a lot of gold accents. But as I said, the chorus members were wearing shorts, polo shirts and tennies. And when the “Ensemble” cast was called on to be part of the action, you could see their shorts and polo shirts under their hastily added costumes. But this wasn’t sloppiness. It was a message to the audience that it doesn’t take much “dress up” to have fun. In fact, all the actors except Joseph and the Narrators were wearing colorful tennies, regardless of their other, more period-appropriate costume elements.

There were other overt challenges to the audience’s imagination. Early in the show, a number of young kids ran across the stage. They had suggestive headgear and long gloves on their arms (or were they socks?), and it was quickly apparent that, despite the minimal costume, they were sheep. To me the effect was better than if they had been covered head to toe with wool. It happened again when Joseph was explaining his dream to his brothers the dream where their sheaves of grain bowed down to his. Eleven uncostumed kids came out to illustrate the dream — uncostumed except for sheaves of corn on their heads. Sometimes it felt like we were watching a skit more than a Broadway musical, but it didn't matter because everything was so darned cute.

Indeed, it seemed that there was no end to the creative touches that adorned this show thanks to the imagination of director LaRee Florence and the creative people who worked with her. One more example came at the end of the intermission in the form of a singalong of the songs from the first half, with the sound track playing while words were displayed on the screen behind the stage.

The program identified a reprise of one of the most memorable songs, “Any Dream Will Do,” as the “finale.” But then there was something called the “Mega Mix,” unique to this production, that came off like a high-energy party on stage, with clapping and dancing, and choreographed bows. To me, it felt like it went on forever, with the energy just building and building, until it spilled out into the audience. It was a finale to end all finales, and as the performers ran out to the lobby to connect with audience members, I could see the pure joy in their faces. They had been part of something really special, and they knew it — and all of us in the audience knew it, as well.

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