Another Terrific Review of JOSEPH – this from Pegasusnews.com

We’ve had a second great review of JOSEPH – this from pegasusnews.com critic Alex Bentley. We think we may be on our way to selling out every performance of a production for the first time in Plaza history – so once again, we strongly encourage you to reserve early. Read on for another critique of the show.

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (playing at Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne through July 30) is one of those perennial shows that crops up time and again at theater companies across the country. In fact, one production at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center just ended, while Artisan Center Theater in Hurst will start another in October. These three join the well over 20,000 productions that have taken place since the musical’s debut in the early ’70s.

It’s doubtful that many of those productions can match the amount of entertainment value that Plaza Theatre Company packs into their version, though. Utilizing every last square inch of their theatre-in-the-round style stage (and even sometimes spilling into some of the 157 seats), Plaza’s company knocks you out time and again with just how much they’re able to pull off in such a small space.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is based in religion, as it tells the Biblical tale of Joseph, whose 11 brothers are jealous of the attention their father, Jacob, lavishes upon Joseph, favoritism which is nicely represented by a special multi-colored coat. But Joseph rarely, if ever, feels like a Sunday school lesson thanks to the multiple number of musical genres touched upon by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Everything from ’50s rock ‘n’ roll (“Song of the King”) to calypso (“Benjamin Calypso”) to disco (“Go, Go, Go Joseph”) is thrown into the mix, and while the reason why Webber and Rice chose to tell this story via a musical stew is unclear, the fun it imparts is undeniable.

Greg Gerardi from Plaza Theatre Company's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Plaza Theatre Company’s production is at once simple and complicated. The set consists mainly of four wedges and four blocks that are carted on and off and rearranged into different configurations by various cast members. Plaza’s production team finds seemingly endless uses for these basic props and, save for a couple of instances, their movement around the stage is unobtrusive. The dedication by the staff to create an immersive experience for their audience is obvious by looking at the walls and floor of the theater, which have been painted specifically for this show, an effort that should not go unappreciated since it’s clear they must do the same thing for EVERY show.

The choreography by Tabitha Barrus at times feels a bit simple, but that’s most likely due to the limited space. The company can be forgiven for its lack of high-flying dance moves when there are sometimes 45 people on stage at once. In fact, that the mob of a cast is able to nimbly maneuver around each other at all during numbers like “Joseph’s Coat” is amazing. Barrus deserves praise for her fun choreography that is more complicated than it might appear on the surface.

Speaking of complicated, the sheer number of costume changes required for this cast is staggering. To match the variety of musical numbers, everybody in the cast changes clothes multiple times. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a hat or neckpiece, but full costume changes are often required, and how they’re able to accomplish that feat with what must be limited backstage space and a huge cast is impressive, to say the least. Costume Designer Tina Barrus does a fantastic job in creating a big theater feel on a community theater budget.

Daron Cockerell from Plaza Theatre Company's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

All of that, and I haven’t even mentioned the performances yet. The title role of Joseph is double cast in this production, and was played at my performance by Greg Gerardi. Gerardi is a newcomer to the Texas theater scene, and his debut is an auspicious one. Despite his relatively short stature, he commanded the stage with his presence and voice. Other standouts included Daron Cockerell and Caitlin Davis as the two narrators, and John Garcia as Simeon/Pharaoh. The narrator role is usually played by just one person, but Plaza’s decision to have both an alto (Davis) and soprano (Cockerell) share the role paid off handsomely. Their beautiful voices blended together to not only set the tone for the musical but to keep the audience enthralled throughout. Garcia, who’s well-known locally for his comic roles, was a crowd-pleaser yet again with his dual parts. His performance as Elvis Pharaoh during “Song of the King” might have been the highlight of the night.

My only big complaint about this production was the so-so sound quality. The sound levels on the microphones of different actors varied widely, from booming to almost non-existent. This rarely took away from the enjoyment of the show, but it would have been nice to have had everybody on equal footing.

For most people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the drive to Cleburne can be quite the hike. But if you love good theater, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t take the opportunity to see a show at Plaza Theatre Company. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is their latest success, and it’s sure not to be their last.

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