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NSMT Returns to Form with Fun "Joseph"

American Idol finalist Anthony Fedorov stars in the North Shore Music Theatre's family-friendly favorite "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

With its second outing in this its inaugural season as a newly opened for-profitAnthony Fedorov as Joseph regional theater company, the North Shore Music Theatre of Beverly, Mass. has gotten happily back on track with the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber crowd-pleaser, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Owner Bill Hanney and Producing Artistic Director Evans Haile have wisely gone back to the well, hiring seasoned director/choreographer Jayme McDaniel to mount this high-energy romp in the round. McDaniel, no stranger to Joseph or the team of Rice and Webber, very successfully staged Jesus Christ Superstar at NSMT in 2006.

McDaniel keeps the pace fast and the touch light as he moves his tremendously talented ensemble of adults and children fluidly about the stage and from scene to scene. If the details of the Old Testament story of Jacob, his favorite son Joseph, and the 11 “also ran” brothers who scheme to fake the fair-haired boy’s demise become a bit blurred in the process, it’s a small price to pay for the sheer entertainment value of the show’s tongue-in-cheek humor and vibrant production numbers. This Joseph may come up somewhat short on sincerity as fables generally go, but as dazzling eye and ear candy, it’s an awful lot of fun.

Anthony Fedorov (of American Idol fame) acquits himself rather nicely as the golden child Jennifer Paz as the Narrator(quite literally, in this case) whose ability to interpret others’ dreams takes him from papa’s boy to persecuted slave to the Pharaoh’s much revered second in command. He has a sure, steady tenor that wraps itself easily around Rice and Webber’s pop-rock score, and he demonstrates a cheer-inducing key-changing riffing ability on several occasions, as well – most notably at the end of his moving prisoner’s solo ballad, “Close Every Door.” While his acting is not as nuanced or commanding as one would hope for in a Joseph, Fedorov nonetheless has a confident and amiable stage presence that will only strengthen as he gains experience.

As the Narrator, sweet voiced and lovely Jennifer Paz brings a gentle, glowing quality to her storytelling that works very well when “instructing” her children’s chorus. When she is more directly involved as a commentator on the action, however, she could use more of a wry, winking edge. Director McDaniel seems to have made the choice to leave the Narrator on the periphery, although she is always visually at the center of attention whenever she’s advancing the tale. Unfortunately, by keeping her from ever truly interacting with her story’s characters, McDaniel has rendered Paz’s personality rather bland.

Gary Lynch as the Pharaoh with Anthony Fedorov as JospehJoseph’s widely eclectic score is all over the map musically, but the deliberate mishmash of genres creates a delightfully comic pastiche that McDaniel stages cleverly for huge laughs. Joseph’s brothers generate most of the fun as they coolly emulate the Jets in a West Side Story send-up (“Joseph’s Dreams”), wax laconic in a cowboy-western riff (“One More Angel in Heaven”), or don dreadlocks and play steel drums for “Benjamin’s Calypso.” The Pharaoh (deep, sexy-voiced Gary Lynch) enters the building in full Elvis regalia, singing his dream to Joseph in all-out hip-swiveling rock ’n’ roll. The Act I finale, “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” is a 1960s Carnaby Street feast highlighted by mini-skirts, psychedelic Afro wigs, and white vinyl go-go boots.

The hands down, no contest winner in the novelty musical number department, however, is “Those Canaan Days” featuring Daniel C. Levine as Napthali. In his very best Edith Piaf impersonation, Levine smokes a cigarette, drinks wine and leads his siblings in a potent, brooding reflection on the longed for good times of the past. A more bedraggled, miserable band of French cabaret torch singers could not be found on the Left Bank. The song climaxes in an endlessly sustained note (that generates wild applause) followed by a passionate Apache danced by the lithe and sexy Rachelle Rak and the virile and athletic Nick Kenkel.

Daniel C. Levine as NapthaliLike a child who doesn’t know when to stop saying “Look at me, look at me,” however, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat sometimes gives us too much of a good thing. Several reprises wear out their welcome, and the Pharaoh inexplicably repeats his Elvis impersonation note for note, gesture for gesture. Then in the “Megamix/Finale,” half a dozen of the show’s flashiest songs are replayed, this time to a driving techno beat.

A disco party tacked onto the curtain calls seems a bit much for a Bible story that comes full circle with fresh-faced children learning the heartfelt lesson that “Any Dream Will Do.” There’s plenty of big entertainment in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to go around. Would it hurt to let the parable’s inspirational message linger just a bit at the end?

Joseph continues through August 22 at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Tickets, priced from $35 to $65, are available online at www.nsmt.org or at the Box Office at 978-232-7200.

PHOTOS BY PAUL LYDEN: Anthony Fedorov as Joseph; Jennifer Paz as the Narrator; Gary Lynch as the Pharaoh with Anthony Fedorov; Daniel C. Levine as Napthali


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