On Friday, February 16, I attended the opening night of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with the lyrics written by Tim Rice and the music by the highly gifted Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Glendale Centre Theatre is celebrating its 71th anniversary as the longest continuously running theater-in-the round in the country. The theater began when Ruth and Nathan Hale opened their own stage in 1947 when no one in Hollywood would perform plays and musicals written by an unknown woman, so the couple decided to start their own theater in order to perform Ruth’s family- friendly plays and musicals and allow Nathan to act. The current theater holds 430 seats, with the small stage in the center and seats ascending above the stage on all four sides, no seat farther from the stage than 10 rows back. Thus, the actors have to play to an audience that surrounds them. While the Glendale Centre Theatre is a local theater in the San Fernando Valley, it is a significant landmark in the history of the Los Angeles area and very well- known among locals. You can watch a video in which Ruth Hale explains the history of this theater and the founding of more theaters in Utah when they discovered that retirement was too boring:
This performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was the third or fourth production of this show I have seen at this theater. In fact, after the first time I saw this musical at the GCT, when I saw it advertised 10 or 15 years ago at the then-Kodak Theater, now the Dolby Theater, I found the performance boring. My friend who attended with me then thought it a poor quality musical. But when I went back to see it again at the GCT, I concluded that the Kodak/Dolby Theater just didn’t know how to put on this show. Certainly not like the Glendale Centre Theatre does!
So I’ve talked all about this theater, but what about the show? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tells the story of Joseph and his 11 brothers, the sons of Israeli patriarch Isaac, who were jealous of Joseph’s coat of many colors. Most all of us know the story of Joseph and how he got sold into slavery into Egypt, which led to good and bad times before Joseph got promoted to second in command in Egypt. The pleasure of this musical is not the story, but rather how the musical tells the story.
The musical reuses the same tunes throughout, but because it uses such different styles of music, we almost don’t even notice that it is doing so. Styles of music we see include calypso, 60s hippy style music, 50s rock and roll, an Italian style sob song, Western music, 20s flapper music, and more. Today, three days later, I found myself humming a song, only to realize that the song came from this musical.
So what details stood out in this portrayal? First and foremost were the vocals. Everyone did an amazing job, and while it took the theater a little while to adjust the microphones satisfactorily, the performers lived up to the standards set by the name of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Robert Marra performed the role of Joseph with impressive power, particularly in “Close Every Door.” Katy Jane Harvey did a good job as the narrator, though we had trouble hearing her at times against the vocals of so many others. And we can’t leave out Lance Zitron’s unforgettable role as the Pharaoh. For a musical with many potential costume changes, the theater did a great job of adding basic touches, such as hats or jackets, to their base costume to add the proper flavor to each scene. The cast showed a vast range of dance skills to be able to perform the style of each number. And the high energy with which they performed the Joseph Megamix finale must have burned up more calories than the rest of the whole show by itself. Yet I saw hardly any sweat in the faces of the cast when they lined up to greet the audience at the end of the show, a little detail I’ve always enjoyed about this theater.
This version of the show also showed fun little touches that made it delightful. I especially liked the way the narrator took pictures of the cast members in the second song “Jacob and Sons,” with the flash going off to make it clear what they are doing, and the way that Joseph took selfies with the Egyptians in “Pharaoh’s Story” that made it a fun touch. They made similar use of technology in “Joseph’s Dreams,” when Joseph wanders around, too distracted by the iPad in his hands to see his brothers making faces and angry gestures at him. I further enjoyed the touch of the Egyptian traders’ paying for Joseph with a large Egyptian Express card.
I have been attending this theater since as a small child I went to their children’s plays, an excellent way to introduce children to live theater. Then, since I was in junior high my family held season tickets, something my parents still continue to this day, getting an extra pair in order to take another couple. Thus, as beneficiary of many of those spare tickets, I still get to see most of their performances and am always left deeply impressed by the magic of their plays and musicals.
You can never go wrong attending any show at the Glendale Centre Theatre, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is one of the best I’ve ever seen there, no matter which time I’ve been!
You can catch the show through April 7!