Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Joseph… Dreamcoat’ eye-popping in color and action in De Pere

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Joshua Bernhardt stars as Joseph in the Birder Players production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” (Company photo)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)

The cake: Joseph – a complete performer. The icing: Joseph’s 11 brothers and their wives – a colorful, churning mass of dance and song. The structure: Genesis – the tale of a favorite son whose dreams become reality.

Birder Players has an impressive version of Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” running to July 14 in the troupe’s Broadway Theatre.

The piece has muscle and a wry sense of humor while offering a situation to showcase its leading performer.

Joshua Bernhardt has a lot going for him in voice, manner, characterization, look and aura as Joseph. Within the main body of the musical that has pizzazz to spare, Joseph cools the action to reflect on where he stands at the moment – essentially at the bottom a deep pit looking up. The song “Close Every Door” is supplely, surely sung by Bernhardt, more or less stopping the seemingly unstoppable show. The presentation is soooo good that Bernhardt sings a second complete version toward the end of the production leading into the bolts of energy of the “Megamix” with everybody dressed from top to toes in white.

In the story, farmer Jacob has 12 sons. Jacob gifts the unique Joseph a special, flashy coat of many colors. Joseph’s jealous brothers decide to decrease the surplus population by one. The brothers beat up Joseph and pitch him into a well. Deciding that’s too good for him, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph is so skilled at calculating the present and the future, he keeps bouncing back, even after messing around with his boss’s wife gets him in more trouble and even when a pharaoh’s whole nation faces famine.

On stage, radiant Ana Lissa Bakken weaves through to set up episodes in the story as the Narrator. She is a presence in song and style, adding character to the role.

On stage, the brothers and their wives – and the other roles they play that include cows and bulls – provide waves of physicality and humor. They go from fake lamentation in “Poor, Poor Joseph” to celebration in “Hoedown,” filling the long, narrow stage with verve.

Often present are 12 youth voices in the Chorus, adding gentle, sweet singing. This show started out as a 15-minute offering for school kids ages 7 to 13 to do, and Rice and Webber never lost sight of its origins as the show grew to gonzo proportions.

David Reinking does triple duty as the smoothly singing Jacob, he of abundant FAMILY, the put-upon Potiphar with the wandering wife and the knowing Guru. Reinking offers some of the show’s glimpses of tongue-in-cheek interpretation when Jacob proudly shows family photos all around on his iPhone. Another drop-in laugh comes later when a labored journey to Egypt includes a representation of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as one of the trudge-ees.

In a featured role, Tony Ehrbar plays the Elvis Presley-like Pharaoh. Ehrbar’s version features the crooning Elvis – the one that smooses with the audience over the gyratin’ one.

Troupe founder/leader Alicia Birder directs and choreographs. Expectation of Alicia Birder and her ensemble performers: You will dance, and the dancing will have a degree of difficulty. And, in this case, the big dance sequences will be BIG. Time and again, the stage bursts into go, go, go. That includes “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” “Hoedown” and “Benjamin Calypso” and more, often with specialty flips of females by males. Dancing, singing, acting, antic-making – the ensemble works hard while generating a sense of fun.

The music is live, and zesty.

The costuming keeps on coming through multiple looks by many. Some scenes look like colorful collages in motion. Backstage must be hectic with all the costume changes.

The set features a version of a pyramid adorned with hieroglyphic images. Scenes are performed on the stepped structure. Importantly, this pyramid can come apart – spreading in two places to form walkways for performers to arrive and depart for scene changes. That’s imaginative.

In a sense, there is a sense of devotion in this production. Perhaps a clue to that lies in Alicia Birder’s remarkable director’s notes in the printed program:

“We all get a bit worn down by the business of doing all the things we think we should and often let the distractions of the world weigh so heavily on us that we lose our direction. We forget the things we once dreamed of and fail to realize our full potential. But what if we were sent a reminder, and our faith in who we are and who were created to be was strong enough to help us rise above the distractions and weight of the world?

“We encourage you to remember your dreams, to trust and have faith that dreams can be achieved, that amazing things can happen.”

***

Creative: From the Bible: Lyrics – Tim Rice; music – Andrew Lloyd Webber; director, choreographer – Alicia Birder; music direct – Evan Lloyd; children’s chorus music director – Chad Lemerande; lighting design – Andrew Schmitz; sound design – Chris Gabyrczak; stage manager – Jenna Peterson; set design – Warren Elliott; hair/make-up design – Lois Gregare; assistant stage manager – Rebekkah Witte; dance captain – Ana Lissa Bakken; scenic artist – Susan Elliott; wardrobe coordinator – Sam McKenzie.

Cast:

Narrator – Ana Lissa Bakken

Joseph – Joshua Bernhardt

Pharaoh – Tony Ehrbar

Jacob – David Reinking

Reuben – Bucky Marlein

Simeon – Jake Chastain

Levi – Sean Gibbons

Naphtali – Nathan Cummings

Issachar – Noah Tetzner

Asher – Jordyn Theys

Dan – Sam VanBeek

Zebulun – Cristian Martinez

Gad – Brandon Doyle

Benjamin – Aidan Averbeck

Judah – Matthew Kee

Reuben’s Wife – Mallory Fuhrmann

Simeon’s Wife – Beth Remmers-Jensen

Levi’s Wife – Elizabeth Gibbons

Naphtali’s Wife – Rebecca Schaberg

Issachar’s Wife – Genesis McMurtry

Asher’s Wife – Valerie Jeanquart

Dan’s Wife – Alyssa Styczynski

Zebulun’s Wife – Abigail Bernhardt

Gad’s Wife – Madeline Tetzner

Benjamin’s Wife – Olivia Gibbons

Judah’s Wife – Meg Dwyer

Potiphar – David Reinking

Mrs. Potophar – Beth Remmers-Jensen

Guru – David Reinking

Tango – Meg Dwyer, Michael Witte

Cows – Abigail Bernhardt, Meg Dwyer, Mallory Fuhrmann, Olivia Gibbons, Valerie Jeanquart, Genesis McMurtry, Madeline Tetzner

Bulls – Aidan Averbeck, Nathan Cummings, Brandon Doyle, Matthew Kee, Bucky Marlein, Cristian Martinez, Jordan Theys

Inmates – Nathan Cummings, Meg Dwyer, Elizabeth Gibbons, Olivia Gibbons

Children’s Choir – Emma Adams, Cali Buntin, Chandler Doyle, Olivia Ellington, Janelle Folk, Addison Harpt, Olivia Jackson, Ruby Mansbridge, London McKenzie, Lauren Powell, Eloise Van Handel

Orchestra: piano – Mary Slavek; drums/percussion – Parker Drew; various instrumental – Kristine Weaver; bass – Tony Pesavento; second piano – Rose Lemerande; guitar – Dan Weaver

Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. June 27, 28; 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 29; 7:30 p.m. July 9, 10, 11, 12, 13;2 p.m. July 14

Info: birderonbroadway.org

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Overture

Prologue – Narrator, Chorus

“Jacob and Sons” – Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Chorus

“Joseph’s Coat” – Jacob, Joseph, Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Chorus, Ensemble

“Joseph’s Dreams” – Narrator, Joseph, Brothers

“Poor, Poor Joseph” – Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Chorus

 “One More Angel in Heaven”/“Hoedown” – Reuben, Jacob, Brothers, Wives, Chorus, Ensemble

“Journey to Egypt” – Narrator, Snake, Camel

“Potiphar” – Narrator, Joseph, Potiphar, Mrs. Potiphar, Male Ensemble

“Close Every Door” – Joseph, Chorus

“Go, Go, Go Joseph” – Narrator, Joseph, Baker, Butler, Ensemble, Chorus

“Go, Go, Go Joseph” Playout – Orchestra

Act II

Entr’acte

“Pharaoh’s Story” – Narrators, Chorus

“Poor, Poor Pharaoh”/“Song of the King” – Narrator, Butler, Pharaoh, Joseph, Ensemble, Chorus

“Song of the King” (Reprise) – Pharaoh, Ensemble, Chorus

“Pharaoh’s Dream Explained” – Joseph, Ensemble, Chorus

“Stone the Crows” – Pharaoh, Narrator, Joseph, Female Ensemble, Chorus

“Those Canaan Days” – Brothers, Jacob

“The Brothers Come to Egypt”/“Grovel, Grovel” – Narrator, Joseph, Brothers, Ensemble

“Who’s the Thief?” – Joseph, Narrator, Brothers, Ensemble, Chorus

“Benjamin Calypso” – Judah, Brothers, Ensemble, Chorus

“Joseph All the Time” – Narrator, Brothers, Ensemble, Chorus

“Jacob in Egypt” – Ensemble, Chorus

 “Any Dream Will Do” (Finale) – Joseph, Narrator, Ensemble, Chorus

“Close Every Door” (Reprise) – Joseph, Ensemble, Chorus

“Megamix” – Joseph, Narrator, Jacob, Ensemble, Chorus

***

THE VENUE: Broadway Theatre is a 154-seat, 3,000-square-foot facility at 123 S. Broadway on the east side of the Fox River in De Pere. The building started life as the Majestic Theatre sometime around 1930. The space is essentially a “black box” performance space that is adjusted to the needs of a specific production. The rectangular space includes a high, arcing ceiling consisting primarily of its original patterned tin, painted white, and a laminate dark brown floor. The stage is set on a long leg of the space, with moveable seating for 140 on three sides. The stage has an angled front with three steps to the top surface. The stage is painted blue, with speckles. Performances can spill from the stage onto the main level of the seating area, so action often is up close and personal. The theater is the home for performances and rehearsals of the youth Birder Studio of Performing Arts and adult Birder Players, and it is another option for other endeavors of entertainment.

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