In January 2015, Packemin Productions will launch their new initiative, Packemin Youth – aiming to showcase the best young musical theatre performers under the age of 20 from all over Sydney. Packemin Productions has established a strong reputation for itself among the musical theatre community, bringing popular shows such as Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz, Hairspray, and Beauty and the Beast to local audiences throughout Sydney. With a cast of over 200 talented children and one professional adult (Sam Moran, a previous member of the world wide children's entertainment group The Wiggles starring in the role of Jacob), Packemin Youth embarks on this new journey with a spectacular re-staging of the esteemed musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at The Concourse, Chatswood.

Directed by Neil Gooding and Jordan Vassallo, this production aims to bring a fresh take to the traditionally well-known retelling of the biblical story of Joseph and his dazzling coat of many colours.

“Being the 2nd time Packemin has done Joseph… seeing the show come to shape with the new cast is quite amazing. [The kids] are making the show their own – they have all found their own characters within the larger ensemble.” says Mr. Vassallo. Whilst he acknowledges that the show is quite structured (which disallows improvisation within a relatively traditional show), he states that “there are many opportunities to show the nuances in the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the differences of the styles of music.” He continues, “the kids take it on with a much more liberal way of looking at it.” He states an example, “Harmony Lovegrove (Narrator), came with her own ideas to phrase things and put her accents on certain parts of the word. She has been able to make it her own whilst making sure the story isn’t lost. Having different performers in the roles gives it a different twist… it ultimately comes down to the rhythms. As the ensemble themselves have gelled and moved together, that in itself has generated a different energy and feel to the production.”

Theatre People asked Mr. Vasallo about the most rewarding part from the directional process of Packemin Youth’s first production. “Seeing the next generation of performers coming through the ranks. Packemin’s always had this ability of being a stable for new performers and theatre majors. So seeing the younger version of what we did 4 years ago (Packemin did a previous production of Joseph with a mainly adult cast), doing it in some ways that are better than the previous production, is phenomenal. The reward is definitely seeing the work that has gone into it – that’s the payoff for me. The show is the bi-product; the rehearsal is the development for an actor, dancer of singer. The biggest part of it is the legacy. We’re imparting what you have to the next generation – that’s when you know you’ve left an imprint on a performer.”

Mr. Vassallo co-directs the production with Neil Gooding, an experienced and well-known theatre director in Australia. When asked how they work together, he says, “I am very aware of his [Neil’s] process, and he is very aware of mine. We are very similar with how we look at it. [Because Neil is so busy], I have been able to be in the room when he’s away. The vision has continued – […]what we have on the floor is what we both want. It is a great partnership. There’s a lot of syncrosity to it, and also an opportunity to build on each others ideas.”

Mr. Gooding’s reputation among the musical theatre community spans due to his experienced and wide range of producing and directing credits, such as Breast Wishes, Gutenberg! The Musical and more recently the national tour for Sweet Charity. Coming out of a rehearsal for Sweet Charity, Mr. Gooding spoke about remounting the show and the extraordinary talent of the kids. “They have easily picked up the original choreography and [are] singing it wonderfully. It has been a bit of a dream team,” he says, “touch wood!” he adds quickly, laughing. “With the personnel in dealing with children and young people, it has become familiar as a result of previous Packemin shows, such as Annie etc, where there have been other children ensembles. [Joseph] is a buoyant, fun show – and that makes it easier to motivate the kids and keep them energised.”

Mr. Gooding commented that the best way to have efficient rehearsals with kids is to simply treat them like adults. “You don’t really change the approach [of directing]. We expect our rehearsals to be quite disciplined, and at a high level of intensity. We have a real luxury that we are getting the best young performers around Sydney, so most of them want to be performers or on that pathway. So we get them at this amazing period of their development where they have the skills and discipline they need. It gives us a fantastic snapshot of the lives of 7-20 year olds that are probably going to go ahead and become Australia’s next musical theatre performers.”

“They are much more certain [at what they want to do] at that their age. I have a theory that they are the Hi-5/Wiggles generation and because they have been surrounded by performers from such a young age, that it is part of what they grow up naturally. As a parent, there are some many avenues [kid shows] targeted at children… I think singing & dancing is much more present in their lives. It is much more visible and socially accepted, which allows [this young generation] to break stereotypes about performing.”

Above: The logo of many colours!

Assistant musical director, Rachel Kelly, also joins this Youth production, having been involved in Packemin productions previously. She jumped at the chance to take this conducting role, stating that she had a “great affection” for the musical Joseph, as it was the first musical she had performed in herself in high school. She also commented on the show’s pastiche of musical styles which keep the show fun and fresh, with music stemming from calypso, country/western and Elvis-style rock ‘n’ roll. When asked what the challenge was in switching between these styles, she praised the “terrific rhythm section in our orchestra who will have no trouble switching between styles”. As well as conducting her favourite piece, Those Canaan Days, Kelly also finds excitement in introducing many new students into the orchestra. Whilst many orchestra members have been previously involved with Packemin productions, which will add “a sense of confidence and security”, she says that it will also garner a “great learning experience for them [new students] to play alongside seasoned performers”.

Theatre People were also lucky enough to speak to some of the children involved in this production. Jayme Jo Massoud is 14 years old and has been a performer in most of Packemin Productions over the last couple of years. Whilst she has always had a talent for dancing and a passion to perform on stage, she mentions that Packemin sparked and introduced her “love for musical theatre”. This time, however, Jayme Jo has also landed the role as Assistant Choreographer – enabling her to gain insight into the production team and learning about musical theatre from the inside. “I love being part of Packemin – they’re friendly and homey – you learn a lot from them. It’s a great learning process for me, especially being around experienced producers. I am learning so much. Even behind the scenes, it is very different from being an actor because it is hard work, but it is fun work. You get to work with other kids, and I love it.” She spoke specifically about what she had begun to learn behind-the-scenes. “You get to learn about how patterns work with the stage, what looks good as an audience member, and working out how to work as a teacher, rather than a peer.” Along with playing the Wife in the ensemble, Massoud also switches between different roles in the ensemble. I asked her about the difficulties she faces by balancing these roles within ensemble, and as assistant choreographer. “It is hard to balance the different roles, but it keeps me excited to do many things at once. It’s hard to be the teacher and giving them directions, but also swapping roles and being them and getting directions. [My relationship with the other kids] is different, but still fun.”

Also involved in this production, as an ensemble member is 9-year old Sienna Bingham. While it was the first time she had heard of the musical Joseph, Bingham excitedly told Theatre People of her hopes to “be on Broadway and doing musicals” in the future. “I decided to audition for Joseph because I’ve already done shows [Beauty and the Beast], that was really fun – and I thought that if I did another show, that it would be a great experience.” “[But] the challenges I think are a bit hard for me, are when we sometimes have to do full rehearsals. It is so different with seniors, and coming from the small room to the big one.” She spoke about her favourite scene in the show. “My favourite scene is Potiphar – it is a really cool/creepy song that I really like. Because Joseph is about one boy and his dad, and his colour coat – it is a bit different. The music is low – and I really like that.”

Tickets are now on sale from $35 from The Concourse, Chatswood, with Joseph to run from Jan 9 – 24, 2015.
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