How do you make a 15-minute children's show based on an Old Testament story into a two-hour Broadway musical — and make it work?
That was the challenge for composer/lyricists Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who took a short 1968 biblical cantata and, over the next five years, expanded it into Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a London theater and Tony-nominated Broadway hit, now at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre through April 21.
The story is essentially still 15 minutes long. It's expanded by dance, dance, dance, done to rock, country, calypso and French ballad music (and not a little padding with a too-long overture and a post-show "Megamix" that tells the story again, only faster).
And who better to bring all that dancing to the Show Palace stage than director/choreographer John Leggio, a 10-year veteran of Broadway and Broadway tours, and more years dancing on television (including Saturday Night Live), cruise ships, theme parks and creating choreography for Cirque Dreams Holidaze and the Jaeb Theatre in Tampa, as well as at his own performing arts center.
Leggio's showy, complex production style is the stuff of legend in these parts, and he goes all out for this Joseph, making it even bigger and more elaborate — a cast of 43 in more than a hundred costumes — than the one he did at the Show Palace more than 10 years ago.
Despite some opening night sound problems (Joseph's body mike drew a blank) and an overly enthusiastic use of a fog machine (cough, cough), this edition of Joseph is dazzling, daring and sometimes almost overpowering in its nonstop energy and over-the-top athletics.
Credit, of course, Leggio's leadership, but a leader needs a team, and he, production designer Tom Hansen and music director Mark Anthony Jelks worked together to create the setting and sound, then found 56 singer/dancers, including 31 talented kids for the children's chorus, to fill the Show Palace with whirling, almost nonstop pageantry. (The chorus kids trade out parts, so there are only 18 for each show.)
There are a few moments for breath-catching, mostly when Joseph (a very appealing Kevin Korczynski) solos (Any Dream Will Do, Close Every Door) and the Narrator (a glamorous Monica Moran) advances the story, all in song with no dialogue.
Korczynski's Joseph, the favorite of his dad Jacob (Itzy Friedman), has just the right amount of innocent arrogance to annoy his 11 jealous brothers enough to want to kill him. Instead, they sell him into slavery, where, thanks to his dream interpretation skills, he becomes the righthand man for Egypt's Pharaoh (Blaine Sumler) an Elvis lookalike whose Song of the King includes the phrases "don't be cruel," "all shook up" "treat me nice" and lots of "uh-huh"s in case someone doesn't get the connection. But could he please be brought out front so he's not obscured by the dancers? And let him use his body mike and fake the hand-held so we can catch every word?
The cast is across-the-board awesome, but watch especially for Kate O'Connell as the voluptuous Mrs. Potiphar, the temptress, writhing around Joseph and causing trouble; young Brandon Michael Woolridge as youngest brother Benjamin, certainly a star in the making; Megan Morgan as the high-kicking Wife/Dance Captain; the always-pleasing Nick Orfanella as Judah, Benjamin's defender in the upbeat Benjamin Calypso; Anthony Fett as Pharaoh's obsequious Butler; and the hilarious Dan Johnson as Simeon, leading his brothers in what is, arguably, the most delightful song in the show, the French-tinged Those Canaan Days.
And kudos to costume coordinator Pat Werner and crew, who brought together the stunning array of period costumes from the ancient world to the postmodern and lots in between.
Hansen's sets use every inch of the stage to best purpose, making sure there's not a single "down" moment. Notice especially the side stages and take some time to watch the sweetly animated kids enjoying themselves as integral parts of the show.
Since the start, Joseph has been a theater favorite, with more than 20,000 different productions involving 700,000 performers throughout the world, according to The Really Useful Group newsletter, several in the Tampa Bay area.
That said, the Show Palace version is something special, a treat for the eyes and ears for all ages and a fresh experience even for those of us who have seen the show many times.