Tall, blond and handsome-and looking for all the world like some sort of biblical superhero-Colin Cahill may be the ideal Joseph, given the sumptuous and fast paced production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat that's onstage at Cumberland County Playhouse through December 23. Cahill charms and entertains as Jacob's favorite son, surrounded by what seems like a cast of thousands, bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical to life with enough energy to power every household along the Cumberland Plateau.
Directed by Playhouse veteran Britt Hancock (who does double-duty as the Elvis-inspired Pharaoh) with the able assistance of Weslie Webster, choreographer Leila Nelson (who works overtime as The Narrator, a role she shares with Anna Baker) and musical director Ron Murphy, CCP's 2012 version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is definitely the best we've ever seen-and may, in fact, be our favorite musical that we've seen all year long. It's exuberant and exhilarating, joyous and fun and the action moves at a breakneck pace that will have you on The Edge of your seat anticipating the twists and turns of Joseph's spirited adventure.
Even with all the superb musicals we've seen at Cumberland County Playhouse over the years (remember, we go back some 20 or so years reviewing shows at the venerable Crossville venue), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat outshines much of what we've seen there. Hancock's concept for the production is imaginative and clever, spanning the decades to present a story of timeless impact and universal appeal.
Based upon the story of Joseph and his multi-colored coat from the book of Genesis, Webber's Joseph (which was his first musical, first written as a cantata for a school performance in 1968 and later expanded for a concept album that led to its eventual staging as a full-scale musical) is a favorite with CCP audiences and it's been presented there several times, but this concept is completely fresh and new for me (even if some of the concept might be retreads from earlier stagings). In this one, the show starts out as a video diversion for children-the narrator appears onscreen to lead her young, impossibly adorable charges through the story-and she introduces Joseph to relate the tale of attempted fratricide, feast and famine and the enduring effects of family love.
With Cahill as the athletic, capable lead-he sings, he dances, he emotes with equal grace and dexterity and he has a smile as big as the Pyramids-Hancock and Webster have assembled a cast that includes professional company members along with a large group of community volunteers and two casts of children to bring the story to life throughout the holiday season. Paired with Cahill as the narrator, at the performance reviewed, Leila Nelson (another Playhouse veteran who has virtually grown up on the Crossville stage) gives an amazing performance, showing off her singing talents in a way heretofore unseen and exhibiting her tremendous range and stage presence in new and surprising ways. Add to her performance the fact that she choreographed the huge cast with impeccable style and you can't help but be awestruck by her.
Between the two of them, Cahill and Nelson keep the plot moving along, interacting with the other characters with ease, ensuring that a good time will be had by all throughout the rollercoaster-like ride of musical storytelling. They are surrounded by some of The Playhouse's most capable performers, including Joseph's free-wheeling and charming "brothers," played by John Dobbratz, Quinn Cason, Jason Ross, Michael Ruff, Greg Pendzick, Daniel W. Black, Donald Frison, Austin Price, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, Chaz Sanders and Isaiah Banegas (who alternates with Cory Clark as Judah). Jack Seville is very effective as Jacob, with Mark Stenson good as Potiphar and Dee Hill burns up the stage with her delightful performance as the randy Mrs. Potiphar. Lauren Marshall completes the cast of principals as The Baker, whose future is foretold via the interpretation of her dreams by Joseph, and Dobbratz takes on the role of The Butler. Hancock's Vegas-inspired turn as the King-oops, the Pharaoh-shows off the versatile director/actor at his showiest best.