“Go, Go, Go, Joseph!”: An Inside Look at Theatre’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”

By Mara Shapiro

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he bell signaling the end of the period has rung. Students scramble to their lockers ready to walk out the doors and go on with their lives. Meanwhile, the actors and crew of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” head down the fine arts hallway into the Black Box Theatre in order to practice their roles as well as the 20 plus songs and dances. Yes, you read that correctly: 20 plus songs and dances.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a beloved musical that is based off of the timeless Biblical tale of Joseph and his jealous brothers. His brothers don’t appreciate how Joseph’s father Jacob favors him. They specifically don’t like that Joseph receives a multi-colored coat, a symbol of the favoritism. In order to remedy the problem, the brothers do away with Joseph, hoping he’ll die so they can get their dad’s love back. This whole story is relayed in the present  to a young boy who is bullied and needs encouragement.

DANCE TRAINING DAY

The actors and crew file into the Black Box, which has been transformed into a dance studio. Choreographer and English teacher Patti-Anne Davis is set to go over the many songs with her two assistants, junior Cameron Broderick and senior Emma Zivkovic. Six mirrors are set up in the middle of the room to assist the dancers with their moves. The first dance of the day is “Benjamin’s Calypso.” It reminds one of a Hawaiian luau, with some hula moves added into the choreography.

Freshman Barry Ruderman, who plays Benjamin, said that the song “Go, Go, Go Joseph” is his favorite. He cites dancing and singing at the same time as the most difficult part of the show. “Joseph” is a musical that has no speaking parts. The actors must sing all of their lines.

Senior Alex Wood, who plays the pharaoh, agrees with Ruderman that the musical aspect can be difficult.

“This is my first musical at Niles West. It has taken me out of my element. Adapting to that is the hard part. For “Earnest” I was in my zone since that was all acting,” Wood said.”

Senior Rudy Newman, who plays a brother, is in the same boat as Wood. He usually acts, but now has to get used to “Joseph’s” style. Senior Max Greene, who also plays a brother, was in “Chicago” last year but agrees that this musical is much more intense.

On this day alone, numbers such as “Go, Go, Go Joseph” and “Jacob and Sons” are performed. Davis, Broderick, and Zivkovic assist in the moves as the actors dance around in gladiator sandals. The cast and crew are very friendly towards one another, and like most teenagers, they enjoy talking. Davis firmly tells the cast that there will be no talking unless “you are singing or asking a question.”  Davis has to remind them to stay focused and not mess around with their dance moves. She wants the moves to be tight and consistent.

Broderick, who is used to acting in various theatre productions, likes his new role as assistant choreographer.

“It’s choreography that I really, really like. I enjoy the dancing parts of musicals. I didn’t know I could dance until “Xanadu.” People said “You can dance,” and I said “I can?” And that grew during “Chicago.”

The most challenging dance in the show is the “Megamix,” which combines every dance in the show into a roughly 12 minute workout.

“It’s got everything. Western, techno, calypso,” Davis said.

Davis said that during this time of the year, with AP exams and the ACT, it can be hard to focus on the show. The 40 cast members have to truly be dedicated to their work.

“Everyone is stressed out, so how do you challenge that to make it productive?” Davis said.

Zivkovic knows that the grueling practices six days a week can be time consuming.

“It’s really fun, but we have to put in the long hours,” Zivkovic said.

While some of the actors are out of their comfort zones with the dancing, senior varsity pommer Sophie Sidlowski is making the most out of her first theatre production. She was inspired by “Chicago” and subsequently tried out for “Joseph.”

“The musical has taught me that dancing in a play requires maybe a bit more than dancing in front of a basketball game. You need to… move [a lot] because the auditorium is so big, and everyone needs to see you. You really need to realize how big of a space you are in on stage and make every move as sharp and big as possible. It wasn’t hard for me to learn the dances at all, really, it just took me some time to adjust to making every move huge,” Sidlowski said.

Various actors have different favorites. Some like “Go, Go, Go Joseph!,” while others like “Benjamin’s Calypso” or ” Those Canaan Days.” There are so many dances that there’s something for everyone. Most people agreed that the “Megamix” was the toughest to perform.

After a hard day of dancing from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Davis offers extra help for those who need it. Otherwise, the actors are free to go.

THE SET

The set is reminiscent of a large-scale jungle gym. It has steps on the left and right sides and coming off the top are many metallic grey bars.

Junior assistant technical director Lila Gilbert explains how the set is different from other productions.

“It’s been awesome preparing the set. This set is cool, very jungle-gym like, and different than others because it uses a lot of steel pipes instead of wood. 

It’s been interesting adapting to it – lots of sparks have flown, new tools are being used, new experiences.”

That’s probably been something that’s the most difficult. Steel is heavier than wood and it leaves your hands/skin black towards the end of the day because it’s still kinda dirty, so it feels like it’s more work than normal, and my friends and I leave with black marks on our faces and stuff,” Gilbert said.

The crew is also faced with the daunting task of moving the set from the Black Box Theatre to the Robert L. Johnson Auditorium where they will be putting on the show.

“To move the set, we divided it into a bunch of different pieces based on their level to move it from auditorium to black box so they could rehearse on it, then back to the auditorium for the show. We’ll put railings and other pieces of wood to block sight lines so that it is show ready, make sure it’s fully painted, and add all the little things we normally do to create the world(s) of  ‘Joseph,'” Gilbert said.

THE LIGHTING

Junior master electrician Daniel Bedoya is the man in the rafters cueing the lights. Bedoya is not a stranger to lighting boards and really enjoys “Joseph’s” requirements.

“I think so far (we’ve only just gotten into tech) my favorite lighting cue would probably be during ‘Close Every Door.’ We lit up the set with only blue light, and the set creates this awesome shadow. It’s got this really dungeony feel, and it really echoes the feeling of loneliness that Joseph is feeling at the moment. There’s bound to be several more fun cues, and lighting has several surprises in store for the show,” Bedoya said.

THE SINGING

Each of the 20 plus songs comes with an accompanying dance, which can be difficult to memorize for the actors.

“It’s hard to dance and sing at the same time,” Ruderman said.

Sophomores Sharon Pasia (narrator) and Sherlina Chauhan (baker and ensemble) agree with Ruderman.

“It’s one thing when they tell you how to move; it’s another when you have to move and think,” Pasia said.

“It’s hard to make time to go over the music and do homework when you get home at 7 p.m. every night,” Chauhan said.

The actors have been listening to the vocal scores at home and repeating the words to themselves. Freshman Alan Kotlyar, who plays Jacob,  just sings the baritone parts without melodies.

Choir director Amy Branahl has been helping the actors prepare.

“Preparations have been going well and the actors have been working on their homework outside of rehearsals.  The best part of working on this musical this year is the number of students who are taking both choir classes with me and theatre classes with Mr. Sinclair.  These students not only can sing, but can sing parts, and tell the story through their acting.  It’s so awesome when you get to see a show that you haven’t had to ‘simplify’ because people are not able to sing it,” Branahl said.

Branahl also helped out with “Xanadu” and definitely sees differences in the music.

“‘Joseph’s’ music is exciting, and you can hear the different musical influences of the time and how it works into the music,” Branahl said.

“Mr. Johnson, the band director, and I always comment on how one of the songs sounds like the Superbowl Shuffle.””

Branahl deems “Who’s the Thief” as being the toughest song to sing since the 7/8 timing can be tricky.

 

THE PIT

While the cast and crew are running around, about 15 musicians sit in a literal pit next to the stage. Their challenges are to hit their notes and focus on their music instead of the show around them.

Band director Justin Johnson has enjoyed working on the show, his first spring musical at West.

“It’s been great working with the students in preparation for this musical. The students have really done a wonderful job of being professional and very mature on preparing this difficult musical,” Johnson said.

Johnson agrees with Branahl that the toughest song musically is “Who’s the Thief” because of the 7/8 timing.

Senior Melanie Berman, who plays the oboe and English horn, credits a different tune as being the most challenging.

“The hardest song in the show to play is “Those Canaan Days.” The song isn’t that hard musically, but there are a lot of starts and stops because there are a lot of vocal solos. We have to be careful to watch Mr. Johnson so we don’t come in at the wrong time,” Berman said.

THE PROPS, COSTUMES, AND SOUND

In a room near the dressing areas, the crew is busy working on props, costumes and sound.

Junior Renee Castillo-Ralon is in charge of costumes.

“We’ve gotten to rent a lot of clothes and use what we’ve got in stock and use them to our advantage. We’ve been building dresses and skirts along with jewelry. We’ve had to build armbands and collars both for the high schoolers and the children that will be in the show, so that’s probably the most difficult – not the process itself of making them, but making sure we have the right amount, sizes, etc. It’s really fun and such a great learning experience,” Castillo-Ralon said.

Junior Rachel Weisbecker is the props mistress. She has to shape the props with clay and also blow up many pool toys. She said that a goat that has its legs pulled off in the show is the hardest prop to build.

“There are a lot of props to keep track of,” Weisbecker said.

Freshmen Rose Johnson  and Hannah Williams help Weisbecker. Senior Glizyl Luna helps Castillo-Ralon with costumes.

Sophomore Scott Albaum is in charge of sound.

“We do mics and control all the speakers and the pit’s music. “I’m in charge of the soundboard and arranging the pitches and volumes of the mics. The hardest part of setting up is having to raise a huge speaker to the top of the auditorium and hold it. We crawl on top of the catwalk, but it’s fun,” Albaum said.

Fun fact: actors have to have a certain amount of crew hours to be invited to the end of the year thespian banquet.

LESS THAN A WEEK TO SHOWTIME

The actors are now decked out in Middle Eastern garb and makeup. They perform both acts in the proper location: the auditorium. All goes well during the first act. Theatre Director Andrew Sinclair laughs after the whirlwind first act is over, calling it a “rollercoaster ride.” The second act doesn’t go quite as smoothly. Sinclair gets a bit frustrated and wants to see more effort and enthusiasm. A few cues were missed as well.

Sinclair understands that “Joseph” is not an easy musical to perform.

“I think any musical that has no dialogue and is completely sung through is a difficult task.  The actors, technicians and pit orchestra have one common thing: music.  Our composers gave us very little time for transition and all storytelling must be told to a set amount of music, words and notes.  One of the most difficult scenes is a transition from Canaan to Egypt in only 4 measures,” Sinclair said.

” While I love the challenge,  I sometimes think that Andrew Lloyd Webber must have known he was creating a massive mountain for any director when he composed that.””

Sinclair has faith in his cast and crew.

“I think this show is a marathon and we are running well right now.  Again, this show looks deceptively easy from an audience’s point of view because it is so much fun.  However, the pace, range of singing, quick costume changes and dance make this show much more difficult than one would think.  However, Niles West actors and technicians love a challenge and they will win this race,” Sinclair said.

THE ACTING

Of course, even though there are no speaking parts, the actors must become their respective characters. Like “The King and I,” “Joseph” is using many child actors from the community. The boy who gets bullied, leading to the story of Joseph to be told, is Park View sixth grader Roland Teivans. He is the brother of senior Jonass Placitis. Teivans loved “The King and I” and was inspired by his brother’s friend, “Joseph” star junior Surdeep Chauhan.

“I love theatre, so I decided to give it a shot,” Teivans said.

Taevans is not deterred by the presence of high school kids.

“I love working with older people. I fit right in.”

Taevans likes the songs “Benjamin’s Calypso,” “Those Canaan Days,” and “Go, Go, Go Joseph.” He also feels that “Go, Go, Go Joseph” is the hardest song as well because of the fast movements.

“This show has many lessons, and we make it fun and spontaneous,” Teivans said.

Chauhan really enjoys the messages of the show as well as his character of Joseph.

“If someone just read the play, they could easily conclude that Joseph is an obnoxious person, and he doesn’t deserve all the love and praise he gets. What I dislike about him the most is the way he is portrayed in the story. He is the golden child, and his life is always easy,” Chauhan said. “But Joseph makes some big mistakes in his journey that many productions and actors have glossed over. And what I like about him the most is that even after having an amazing coat, a beautiful voice, and the power to interpret dreams, he is still a person like you and me. And that’s why I’m excited to play him, so I can make him more relatable and human.”

Chauhan especially loves his big number “Close Every Door.” It’s his solo, and he gets to sing out into the audience while everyone’s eyes are on him. He feels that this song is the hardest for him personally. But most importantly, he loves the messages the story demonstrates.

“It’s relatable because Joseph gets pushed around like teenagers do today. He doesn’t give up, and he shows this through the eyes of a kid suffering from bullying,” Chauhan said.

“It tells people that sometimes you’re going to fall in a pit or go to jail, but that you need to keep faith and stick it out for a happy ending. It shows there is hope.””

Chauhan said that the actors need to work on controlling their voices and dance moves in order to look great on stage.

Wood’s character of the pharoah is a parody of Elvis, so he had to study the iconic rocker’s voice and movements to get the role down.

Wood really loves playing a ladies’ man.

“I get to shake my hips and make ladies scream. What is there not to like?” Wood said.

Wood thinks that students should come watch the show.

“It’s very family friendly. It’s not as sexual as “Chicago,” Wood added.

Davis belives that with all the pressures of the end of the school year, coming to a musical would be the perfect way to de-stress.

Sinclair agrees.

“Beyond the great storyline – who doesn’t love a message about redemption and the power of hope? – it is a quick-paced, rock musical that has something for everyone.  Rarely do we get to perform a show that is as accessible to an eight-year-old audience member as it is to an 80-year-old.  This show has a great message, a great heart and some wonderful music,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair is pleased with the choice of “Joseph” as the 2013 spring musical.

“Joseph” is a great musical because it looks deceptively easy.  It’s a rock musical, and the story is so fun – it is a show that almost guarantees an audience to leave with a smile on its face.  However, the technical difficulties of having a musical that spans decades and is completely sung are two of the biggest challenges.  I love this show because of it’s ‘jukebox’ nature – there is a song for everyone,” Sinclair said. Rarely do you get a musical with a country song, a pop ballad, a jazz number, a rap song and a calypso tune.  However, the mismatched nature is a difficult story to weave for a director, choreographer and actor.  That is what makes this show both fun and a great theatrical challenge.”

“Joseph” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4. Tickets for seniors, students, and children cost $7 and the price for adults is $10. It will be put on in the Robert L. Johnson Auditorium.