POSTED ON DECEMBER 12, 2012:
Fresh take on an old, old story
Biblical tale is departure for local company
If you're reading this, chances are you are in the Bible Belt. By extension, it's a good bet you know the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors -- the youngest, favored son of a biblical patriarch incurs the wrath of his jealous brothers, who sell him into slavery. He overcomes obstacles and rises to power, eventually facing the choice of whether to help his brothers many years later.
But we all remember the coat of many colors that his dear old dad gave him.
Tulsa Project Theatre brings this tale to life in its production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, opening Friday, Dec. 14 at the Tulsa Convention Center's Assembly Hall. In many ways, this is a departure for Tulsa's only Equity company.
For one, the company has never mounted a show this big before, according to director and choreographer Heather Hall-Newman.
"There are 37 people in this cast," she said. "It's the biggest adult cast that we've worked with. And having 15 of those be men is pretty impressive. It's a lot of voice."
Anyone who's done any theatre for more than about 10 minutes probably just noticed that 15 guys is a hell of a lot of guys. There are always lots of women ready to jump onstage and put on a show, but the cross borne by the director of pretty much any musical is the question of where they're going to find enough boys to fill the roles.
"There was a little hunting that happened," Hall-Newman said, noting that they had strong male performers show up to the audition, but just not enough. "Every audition we've had has been increasingly impressive with the turnout, but still, we just didn't have 15."
Enter music director Kent Dennis, who helped hunt up some performers who would be more than just warm bodies. He's happy with what he found.
"It's not like we were scraping the barrel. Everyone in this show was a good addition," he said.
Another manner in which this show is a departure for TPT becomes apparent when one remembers what this troupe's last show was. Fishnets, trannies, Brad and Janet. Yeah, you remember. The Rocky Horror Show. What else to follow a tale of unbridled debauchery with than a story from the Bible?
The vast difference between these two shows is probably most apparent to Robbie Bennett. He plays Joseph, but he also played Brad in Rocky. It's hard to think of two roles more diametrically opposed that one might play back to back.
"Surprisingly, there are a lot of weird similarities between these shows," Bennett said. "Like I'm still uncomfortable at times, like changing backstage around women. That's still the same. But Brad in Rocky -- a lot of stuff happens to him, and he's like, 'What the heck is going on?' most of the time, and with Joseph, a lot of stuff happens to him throughout the story. So from that perspective, there are a lot of similarities."
Bennett's pastor may want to meet with him after reading that Rocky and Joseph have some similarities.
Bennett added another parallel between both shows, one that's keeping him on a learning curve.
"I guess I'm getting more used to being seduced," he said. As Brad, he was seduced by Frank, and Joseph deals with Potiphar's wife. "It's a new thing. I'm definitely having to act."
While TPT has cultivated somewhat of a reputation for doing the occasional show that isn't widely-known (or, in the case of last season's Guess Who's Coming to Seder?, brand new and totally unfamiliar to the audience), the fact remains that the company is known for Rocky, and everyone knows those songs. But with Joseph, TPT returns to less-familiar territory, although Hall-Newman takes issue with the characterization of Joseph as a show with music that not many people know.
"I think maybe there are people who came to this show who might not know the music, but I have tons of people asking if it's going to be rude if they sing along," she said. "There are just tons of people who grew up with this musical."
For those people, Hall-Newman is presenting a show that's faithful to what they know, with a few new things here and there.
"It's sprinkled with some new ideas," she said. "But it's definitely not a complete departure. People who have seen the movie with Donny Osmond -- which is what most people know of this show -- they will not be disappointed. They will be completely satisfied, because ours is a similar interpretation."
Bennett sort of qualifies as one of those who didn't really know the show prior to joining the cast, having only seen it as a preteen.
"After I got cast, I started listening to the music and watching clips on YouTube, but I wasn't super familiar with it," he said.
The church-going star was raised knowing the story from the Good Book, and said that Joseph loosely follows the story.
"There are some goofy things associated with it that are obviously not associated with the biblical version, like Joseph's gangster thug brothers," he said, prompting Hall-Newman to speak up.
"It's like a parody," she said. "When things get sad, it's a country ballad. When things get really sad, it's like a French melodramatic art song. You could say that it's a silly and light-hearted take on a very dramatic subject."
A light-hearted take on a story from The Most Important Book In This Part Of The Country? Is Hall-Newman worried about red-state reception of such a thing? Not really, she said.
"Then again, last night, I did say, 'Is this going to be appropriate to have gangsters beating up Joseph?' which I've never seen in Joseph before," she said. "It's not like this is the traditional way this show has been done before."
Tulsa daughter Carly Casey returns to our fair city to play the narrator in this production, this being just the latest stop in the performance tour that is her life. She recently spent quite a bit of time performing on a cruise ship that literally sailed around the world, and if you were lucky enough to read her nearly-daily Facebook posts about it, you got to travel vicariously with her. Currently, she makes her home in New York, but wanted the chance to come home, and to help with TPT as much as possible.
"My mom sent me some stuff about TPT when it was starting up a couple of years ago," she said. "I saw a production of Rocky about three years ago -- before this was Tulsa Project Theatre -- out at The Joint. That was the first professional theatre I had seen in Tulsa."
Casey was excited about that prospect, and when this opportunity came around, she jumped at it, though only partially for personal reasons.
"I thought if I fly in and give it a go, I could be home for the holidays," she said. "I'm really glad to be home, but I'm even more excited that Tulsa has a professional theatre company."
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat bows this Friday, Dec. 14 in Assembly Hall at the Tulsa Convention Center. The show runs through Dec. 23, with Friday and Saturday performances starting at 7:30pm. There are also Saturday and Sunday matinee shows at 2pm. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased through tulsaprojecttheatre.com or at the door.
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