Studio Tenn presents:
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
May 17 - June 2; All ages
Jamison Theater at The Factory
230 Franklin Road, Franklin
615-541-8200 | studiotenn.com
Showtimes; Thu - Fri 7 p.m., Sat 2 & 7 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $35 - $90
Studio Tenn's topsy-turvy 10th season ends with one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's earliest works, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In fact, Joseph is the first collaboration between Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Its first version was a 15-minute pop cantata for kids in 1968, and since then evolved into the musical we know today. Joseph's Broadway debut was in 1982, and while it garnered six Tony Award nominations that year, it won none of them. That's not too surprising given that this is one of Webber's works that falls into the mediocre category.
Webber's material across the board tends to be hit or miss. Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Sunset Boulevard are definitive Webber masterpieces, while shows like Love Never Dies, School of Rock and Aspects of Love are mostly forgettable. Joseph falls somewhere in between those two spectrums. A favorite with high school and community theater programs, it's not a difficult show to mount, and perhaps that's why Studio Tenn's interim artistic director Benji Kern opted for this show. It's an easy alternative. Joseph wasn't in the original 2018-19 lineup. The final show this season was supposed to be Damn Yankees until Studio Tenn's founding artistic director Matt Logan abruptly left earlier this season. Upon Logan's departure, Kern swapped out two of the shows on the original slate — Always ... Patsy Cline took the place of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in February, and Joseph took the place of Yankees.
While I would have preferred Damn Yankees, Studio Tenn's production of Joseph is entertaining if you enjoy goofy camp material. Joseph is a story loosely based on the biblical character of Joseph in "Genesis," the 11th son of Jacob's 12 boys. Joseph, a dream interpreter, is his father's favorite son. He receives a vibrant coat of many colors — an extravagant gift in that day, denoting his father's favoritism — and in turn, his brothers' jealousy leads them to sell him into Egyptian slavery.
Studio Tenn does its best to carry out the Webber-Rice camp factor. It's funniest moment is the presence of a FedEx truck rolling across the stage tossing an Amazon Prime box Joseph's way; inside is the coveted jacket. In addition, Joe Beuerlein's Elvis-flavored Pharaoh serves the camp material well.
Jesse Michels stars as Joseph, and he brings an amazing amount of charm and enthusiasm to his character. He's the standout talent in the production delivering dazzling vocals along the way. Likewise, Studio Tenn veteran Laura Matula, donning a bright blue wig, does a fine job overall as the Narrator despite a couple of pitch-problems. Curtis Reed (Asher) leads the crowd-favorite "Those Canaan Days" in Act II — it's the standout number in the show.
Unfortunately, opening night came with many sound mix problems where the mics weren't hot enough and the band often overpowered the vocals — not good for a musical that's entirely sung-through. For the most part, the cast members carry out Anna Claire Perry's choreography in good manner, though at times they are sloppily out of sync.
Kelly Scheuman's exquisite lighting and Mitch White's geometric set design work well together. However, a big star of this production is Studio Tenn's expensive new acquisition of an impressive LED proscenium arch framing the stage (MA2LA designed the state-of-the-arch projections). It'll be interesting to see how this new addition to the Studio Tenn stage will play out in its upcoming neon-drenched 2019-2020 season.
Studio Tenn's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is certainly one of the most family-friendly shows it has presented in its history (there is even a crowd of kids on the stage serving as the recipients of the tale encouraging them to dream). While there are definitely entertaining moments within Studio Tenn's approach, what falls flat is Webber and Rice's work itself. Granted, there are a couple of catchy tunes and some funny lyrics, but there's not anything overtly compelling about the intended camp factor. True camp dictates an over-the-top WOW experience that is memorable and makes a statement (like you get in a show like The Book of Mormon). However, Joseph's "camp" doesn't pitch any tents. Instead it leaves you with a "meh" mentality.
Studio Tenn's current season has been rife with upset since last fall. Let's hope next season will find the company regaining its solid footing in our theater community. Time will tell.