A favourite amongst school groups and young performers, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is being produced and performed later this month by Windmill Theatre Company, who hope to bring the show to an older audience, while keeping the broad appeal of the show open to all ages.
Based on the biblical story of a prophet and beloved son who finds himself cast out by his eleven jealous brothers before ultimately becoming the second most powerful man in the land, Joseph is widely known amongst the theatre crowd as a fantastic show for younger actors to cut their teeth on. The fast paced scenes, predominantly upbeat songs based on many different genres and an abundance of opportunities for large, brightly coloured and flashy chorus numbers make it a perfect choice to keep young people engaged while teaching them about the spectacle of theatre.
Theatre People spoke to the Director of Windmill’s production, Sean van Geyzel, about the choice to produce the show using an adult cast and full orchestra, why he thinks Joseph shouldn’t be pigeonholed as only a children’s extravaganza, and how rehearsals were shaping up so close to production week.
Firstly, Mr. van Geyzel stressed to Theatre People the fact that while his production was indeed using a cast of adults and a full 15 piece orchestra, a children’s choir was also being utilised to tell the story. With a cast of 26 adults and 18 children, this was one of the larger groups Mr. van Geyzel had directed in the past, and while this had presented its own challenges, the production team was incredibly happy with how both age groups were interacting and working together. He sighted Carla White (the productions Narrator) as an example of how well the cast and choir are working together, saying that when she rehearses scenes with the children, she becomes almost a stage mother to them. He believes that Joseph is a brilliant show for children and younger theatre goers to be involved in, but remarked that it was definitely time for a bigger company with a bigger budget to do the show, as he has not seen it staged out of youth theatre and schools in a number of years.
Mr. van Geyzel made a particular mention of being happy that he was finally seeing an age appropriate Jacob (Joseph’s father), instead of a year 12 student in a beard, as is necessary when casting from a talent pool of youth. He also spoke about the large amount of male roles within the show (in addition to Joseph, Jacob has eleven other sons, not to mention the characters of the Butler, the Baker, the Elvis-impersonating Pharaoh, and Potiphar) and the slight difficulty they had had in casting some of the males. “It’s often very hard to find men who can sing, dance, act, and are willing to be on stage,” (a problem anyone who has ever done amateur theatre will understand completely), but Mr. van Geyzel told Theatre People that the production team was “completely happy” with the men who are taking the show to the stage. “We finalised our male cast mid-March this year, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice to wait.”
In addition to a large cast and a full orchestra, Windmill is using a lot of choreography and movement (credited to Robert Mulholland) to tell of Joseph’s story and the dreams that fill his life. Mr. van Geyzel told Theatre People that the production team, “… decided very early on that we wanted to push the envelope on the genres used throughout the show.” He mentioned Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s quirky concept of changing the musical theme of each scene in order to allow the show to have a rousing ballad (“Close Every Door”) placed next to a flashy disco number (“Go Go Go Joseph”), and said that this was one of the biggest draw cards of the show when it comes to entertainment value. He told Theatre People that his cast were completely receptive to the idea of making each genre stand out by itself, without making the show overly corny or causing the characters to become caricatures. “I think people will really emote with Joseph’s story. James Terry (Windmill’s Joseph) is doing a fantastic job, and we are making sure that his journey feels real and not at all cartoon like.”
To the same end, the decision was also made early on by the creative team that the traditional colourful palette of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat would be reflected more through lighting and the pigment in the well know coat costume than through other characters clothing or overuse of different sets (according to the Director, the productions set designer, Alberto Salvato, has created a minimalist set that adapts to the placement of each scene). Mr. van Geyzel commented that it is easy in a show like Joseph to hide behind the use of colour, but his production was attempting to ground the palette in reality, therefore letting the iconic coat shine through. The Brothers, for example, are being costumed in earthy tones, where the creative team has mostly previously seen each brother assigned to a particular colour and costumed accordingly.
It is the fervent hope of everyone involved in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to uphold the ever growing legacy of Windmill Theatre Company during their upcoming season. Following last years successful and award winning production of another Andrew Lloyd-Webber show, The Phantom of the Opera, the production team is confident that the hard work and dedication put into the two week run of Joseph will show to anyone who buys tickets to a performance.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will play at the Drum Theatre in Dandenong for 8 performances starting Friday, June 20. Further information on the show and tickets can be purchased on the Drum Theatre’s website.