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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Originally written as a children's oratorio, the musical version of the biblical story of Joseph has always been an inspiring piece. But this adaptation by director Steve Wilson, coupled with the extraordinary performance of PHAMALy (Physically Handicapped Amateur Musical Actors League, Inc.), deserves a category beyond normal theatrical definitions.

Set in a mental hospital, the story opens with the entire ensemble circulating past a round countertop filled with cups containing their evening's medication. As they somnabulistically intone the words of the Prologue—"We all dream a lot – some are lucky, some are not/But if you think it, want it, dream it, then it's real/You are what you feel"—we can't help but consider the moral lesson offered by such a remarkable group of individuals who overcome a difficult set of challenges everyday of their lives.

Like Peter Weiss's famous drama Marat/Sade that is set in an 18th Century asylum, Wilson's interpretation adds a layer of subtext to the performance that never lets us forget what is at stake here, with the actors/inmates seizing upon the message of the play as a means to their own release and fulfillment.

The spiritual tone of the evening is set by Leonard E. Barrett, Jr., whose magnificent voice, as Narrator, lends an authoritative and celestial quality to the proceedings.

Jeremy Palmer's understated approach to Joseph, beginning with his afflicted state in the mental hospital and carried forward throughout his rise from shepherd to Pharaoh's assistant, keeps the potentially egotistical elements of his character from overriding the astonishing power of his dreams.

In addition to Wilson's insightful direction, choreographers Debbie Stark and Cindy Bray make the impossible look easy with graceful dance numbers and precision movements of the vast ensemble, including the inventive use of wheelchairs to move props.

Creativity in the production design is evident in all the details as well: The country & western inspired "One More Angel in Heaven" and the French cabaret number "Those Canaan Days" are particularly notable; Joseph's seduction by Potiphar's Wife, starring Lyndsay Giraldi in leather halter top with riding crop, sent the audience in paroxysms of laughter; prop designer Alex Reshetniak's sacrificial goat outdoes anything else I've seen in this regard; and keyboard wizard Donna Debreceni's musical direction, in tandem with Julie Sherwood's vocal coaching, produces a chorus as strong as any of our regional musical theatre companies.

As Aristotle recognized long ago, the theatre plays a unique role in not only explaining the mysteries of existence, but in transforming these insights into spiritual experiences. In coming together to help PHAMALy members share their talents in such a setting, the Denver arts and business community has facilitated an annual celebration unsurpassed anywhere.

PHAMALy's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs through July 31st. 303-893-4100, www.phamaly.org, and Tickets West outlets.

Bob Bows

 

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