Sunday, July 18, 2010

Theatre Under the Stars - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Fiona and I went out to see Joseph at TUTS last night. We usually see both TUTS shows every summer. It's a real treat to sit outdoors at Stanley Park and enjoy a musical theatre production put on by a local company of professional and emerging performers. We usually know people in the show too, which makes it even more enjoyable.

We've seen a couple of productions of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Joseph recently. In the fall, Footlight Theatre in Burnaby put on a funny and delicious show at the Michael J Fox Theatre in Burnaby. This company made a successful transition from the more intimate James Cowan Theatre into the grand space of the Fox. Joseph was the perfect choice for this move. The production was splashy and gorgeous. In the spring, we saw Royal City Musical Theatre's production of Joseph at the Massey Theatre in New Westminster. Fiona was in the show, so we saw it a few times, and loved the high energy, non-stop splendour of it. Luxurious sets and fab costumes set off a solid ensemble performance with a jumbo cast.

Both Footlight and RCMT followed the script pretty well to the letter in their productions of Joseph, spicing things up with local and current references where convention dictates. We would have been happy to see something similar at TUTS. Instead we were treated to a total revamp of old "Joe" that was a bit herky-jerky (on purpose I think), and a splendid surprise.

Director Shel Piercy has revamped the traditional Joseph into a new story, with so many twists it's sometimes hard to stay caught up. I just relaxed and enjoyed what I could see. Jacob and the brothers are played by children. There are multiple narrators. The show is set in 1967. The Pharaoh is a woman. There are acrobatics and magic tricks. And that's just for starters.

The show begins with a dejected group of kids trying to put on a show about Joseph's coat. They don't have enough actors to play all of the brothers, and it's almost curfew time. As they ponder whether to stage the Wizard of Oz instead, or to just give up and go home, their rehearsal space is invaded by a group of hippies, who promise not to harm them, and to show them how the story goes. They recruit a 12th brother from the audience (a little girl who was incorporated into the whole show in a simply lovely way) and tell the story. The songs and plot line are the same, but everything else is different. Cultural, historical and political references are spiked through every bit of the narrative, and there are lots of musical theatre in-jokes. Performers literally swing from the rafters in crazy dance routines and the kids and adults all perform together on stage from beginning to end. My favourite part was the funniest rendition of "Canaan Days" that I have ever seen. The production is tight - finishing in 2 hours even with a generous intermission. There's a lot of heart in it, a fine lead performance by Erik Ioannidis and great ensemble work too. All in all, it was a refreshing change and a thoroughly satisfying evening.

If you haven't been to TUTS in recent years, things have changed. All seats are reserved (online, in person at the Malkin Bowl box office or at Tickets Tonight). There's a great barbeque for supper if you need it, other reasonably priced refreshments, wine and beer sales inside the venue, and ample parking nearby if you come by car. When you pay for parking, note that it's free after nine. If you arrive at 7pm, you should be able to park by the miniature railroad and pay $5 for just 2 hours. Once that lot is full, there's one just across the main road beside the RCMP horse stables. Programs are free now, and you can get your photo taken for free also, at a photo tent run by the show's corporate sponsor, TD Bank.

Some things are the same as always: the walk across the garden to the washrooms under the tea pavilion, sea planes and seagulls crossing overhead during the performance, cuddling up under a blanket as the sky darkens during the second act, and the love and energy of the performers and volunteers at Malkin Bowl. It's more than just the play you go for when you enjoy an evening at TUTS.

As we walked back to our car we saw the little girl who had been brought from the audience into the show to be youngest brother, Benjamin. She was dancing around on the lawn outside the venue gates, still wearing her beautiful coloured coat. "You did a great job!" we told her. "Thank you!" she sang, still dancing.

question: have you been to TUTS lately?

mompoet - loving Vancouver

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