Electric and eclectic Joseph now at Toby’s
From Elvis-inspired rock and roll, to Calypso music, to the Charleston dance of the 1920s, there is something for just about everyone in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now playing at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Md. The classic musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice has been entertaining audiences for nearly 50 years.
Joseph began as a short cantata the pair wrote for a parochial school when Webber and Rice were in their 20s. But after their later musical Jesus Christ Superstar became a smash hit in the 1970s, a more-fully developed version of Joseph took off as well.
It’s been a staple in musical theater ever since — with its family-friendly storyline, infectious tunes and lyrics, and exaggerated comedy.
Joseph follows the major points of the biblical story in Genesis, which nearly everyone recalls. Joseph is a young dreamer and shepherd, whose 11 brothers are jealous of him. Most of their ire comes from the fact that their father, Jacob, seems to love Joseph best. The “coat of many colors” that Jacob gives to Joseph is seen as a clear sign that he is their father’s favorite.
Joseph also has dreams of future greatness that he unwisely shares with his family. One of them suggests that his family will one day all bow down to him.
In a jealous rage, the brothers throw him into a pit, intending to leave him to die in the desert. Then, when a caravan passes by, they decide instead to sell him to the merchants, who take him to Egypt.
In the events that follow, Joseph is tested again and again, until ultimately he becomes the Egyptian Pharoah’s second-in-command, fulfilling his dream.
A comedic take on the story
The musical takes this dramatic subject matter and, while more or less faithfully telling the story, finds much inherent (and often goofy) comedy in it.
For example, when the sons break the news to their grieving father of Joseph’s apparent death, the musical number “One More Angel in Heaven” has audience members clutching their sides in laughter. It’s sung as a Western country music ballad, with the sons sporting cowboy hats and singing with a twang.
In this way throughout the show, different musical styles are utilized for each number, often for comedic effect. When the land is struck by famine and excessive heat, the starving brothers sing the crowd-favorite number “Those Canaan Days,” presented as a hilarious parody of French ballads (yes, complete with berets and French accents).
Great casting with a twist
Much of Joseph is told by a character called the Narrator, traditionally played by a female singer. She explains the back story, introduces the characters, and even interacts with the other characters. Her soaring vocals serve as the backbone and main female voice of the show.
For this production, Toby’s uses a revolving set of five Narrators, each of whom plays the part for a few weeks. The theatre’s founder and the musical’s co-director, Toby Orenstein, introduced this unique feature to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the city of Columbia and the 45th anniversary of her school, the Columbia Center for the Theatrical Arts.
“Each woman has a special connection to Columbia, Toby’s, and/or CCTA,” explained Orenstein. As a result, “it will be a brand-new show every few weeks,” she said.
Our narrator was played beautifully by Janine Sunday, a 20-year veteran local actress and four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee. She opened the show with gusto, first with the “Prologue,” closely followed by the rousing “Jacob and Sons,” which introduces the characters.
The rest of the cast is equally strong, led by a knockout performance by Wood Van Meter as Joseph. He is superb in his portrayal of the naïve dreamer, and his pure tenor voice is sweet. The show’s only dramatic song, “Close Every Door,” which Joseph sings while in prison, is the perfect showcase for his strong vocals. The number is particularly moving.
Other notable roles are filled by Andrew Horn as Jacob, Russell Sunday as hilarious lead brother Reuben, David Bosley Reynolds as the Egyptian “millionaire” Potiphar, Nia Savoy as Potiphar’s seductive wife, and David Jennings as an Elvis Presley-like Pharaoh. (His “Song of the King” is, you guessed it, sung like an Elvis impersonator.)
There is also a funny and memorable scene with David James as the Butler and Jeffrey Shankle as the Baker, whose characters have both been imprisoned with Joseph. Spoiler alert: One of them doesn’t make it out alive.
Also, a huge round of applause for the band of singing and dancing brothers, and for the all-female ensemble that provides excellent back-up vocals, as well as dancing and acting.
Like all great productions, there are a few minor setbacks. Our show suffered a few audio issues during the performance, with the microphones slightly cutting out or breaking briefly. The actors seemed aware of the issue and compensated with louder, clearer vocals. Presumably the glitch has since been fixed.
The rest of the production went off without a hitch. Joseph is a positively electric show, and we’re not just talking about the 500-plus lighting cues issued by the lighting designer that bring the intimate stage to life.
If you go
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues through Sunday, Aug. 27 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, located at 5900 Symphony Woods Rd. in Columbia.
The show runs seven days a week, with evening and matinee performances. Doors open at 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, for dinner prior to the evening performances, which begin at 8 p.m. For Sunday evening performances, which begin at 7 p.m., doors open at 5 p.m. for dinner.
On Wednesdays and Sundays, there are matinee performances, which open for brunch at 10:30 a.m., with shows beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Reservations are required. Ticket prices range from $43.50 (for children under 12) to $62, depending on the performance. Ticket prices include an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner or brunch, tea and coffee. Specialty drinks — like this show’s exotic mango and vodka smoothie called the Calypso — and specialty desserts are priced separately.
While not five-star cuisine, Toby’s buffet-style meals offer something for everyone. Ours featured prime rib, pork ribs, roast potatoes, cocktail shrimp, a variety of vegetables and salads, and more. Cake and unlimited ice cream are included for dessert. You can also arrange to have coffee or alcohol brought to you during intermission.
Speaking of which, the show’s actors also function as waiters, and they depend on your tips for much of their pay, so be sure to tip generously.
For more information or to reserve tickets, call (410) 730-8311 or visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.