By Lynn Venhaus
As frothy as a cappuccino and sweet as cotton candy, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” took hold of The Muny stage as a swirling kaleidoscope of color, a glittery burst of cheer from a youthful ensemble that brings it home.

In the first full season after the challenging post-pandemic years 2020-2021, The Muny wraps up a groundbreaking summer with this beloved big, splashy musical that has been here six times. Last produced in 2012, the show first arrived in 1986 and returned in 1997, 2002 and 2007.

With its technical razzle-dazzle matched by the effervescent Muny Kids and Teens in the youth ensemble and children’s choir, the entire company looked like they were at the happiest place on earth.

That engaged the crowd, and the charismatic principals Jason Gotay as golden child Joseph, Jessica Vosk as the regal Narrator, and Mykal Kilgore as the swaggering Pharoah elevated the wispy material, delivering knock-out performances.

Narrator and Potiphar. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

However, the show is not without heartache and adversity – with a turnaround because of strength, perseverance, and blessings, for it is based on the Old Testament Book of Genesis tale of Jacob, his favorite son Joseph, his 11 other sons, and that famous coat of many colors.  

After Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery, he impresses the Egyptian noble Potiphar, but then rejects his wife’s amorous advances, and is thrown in jail. While locked up, Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams is put to good use. He ingratiates himself with the Pharoah because he offers a solution to the country’s famine, and that stroke of fortune results in Joseph becoming the Pharoah’s right-hand man. He is eventually reunited with his family.

In the stylized re-imagining by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, the story is told through song and dance.

Considered innovative in the 1970s, the musical comedy has expanded over time, and is now regarded as a family-friendly favorite staged by thousands of schools and groups in the U.S. and across the pond. 

The EGOT duo began this journey collaborating for the second time in 1968. Commissioned by a music teacher who was a family friend of Webber’s, their 15-minute pop cantata was performed at the Colet Court School in London. After more tinkering, it was recorded by Decca Records in 1969.

When their next piece, the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” skyrocketed them to fame in 1971, the earlier musical was stretched to 35 minutes for the Edinburgh International Festival the next year. More modifications followed, and the modern format was staged in 1974. It was mounted on Broadway in 1982 and nominated for seven Tony Awards. Revivals, tours and a 1999 direct-to-video film starred Donny Osmond followed.

Like the other pop Biblical musical of that era, Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell,” it is re-interpreted for every presentation. Consider this the theme park ride version, with the youngsters displaying as much energy as those attending summer cheerleading camps.

Photo by Phillip Hamer.

It’s a swell dance party, briskly performed in several celebratory scenes and elaborate pastiches – including countrified “One More Angel in Heaven/Hoedown,” the French-inspired lament “Those Canaan Days,” island-flavored “Benjamin Calypso” and the grandmaster flashy finale “Megamix.”

The pleasant pop-py tunes “Any Dream Will Do” and “Go, Go, Go Joseph.” are certain to be hummable on your way home.

Music director Charlie Alterman, who won last year’s St Louis Theater Circle Award for “Chicago,” is adept at lively shows with many moving parts and his orchestras are a treat to listen to — and he’s aware of the Muny’s pit challenges this season.

Of course, a show directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes would seize the day. Rhodes, who is known for his athletic and acrobatic dances, returns after successes helming “Jersey Boys,” “Paint Your Wagon” and that stunning tap number to “Putting on the Ritz” in 2016’s “Young Frankenstein.”

This is a show that requires a special set of skills, and Rhodes’ crisp and snappy choreography is flat-out fun. He was aided by associate choreographer Lee Wilkins and dance captain Emilie Renier.

In its last national tour in 2014, the ingenious three-time Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler directed and choreographed a fresh interpretation that ran at the Fox Theatre that spring. That show featured American Idol finalist Ace Young as Joseph and his wife, fellow finalist Diana DeGarmo, as the Narrator.

The role of Joseph is often filled by a pop star – and teen heartthrobs David Cassidy, Andy Gibb and Donny Osmond have played the lead before. (And first American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini, who has played various roles at the Muny, was Joseph in 2012.)

At the Muny, Jason Gotay has won over hearts as a charming leading man, appearing as Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid,” Prince Topher in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” and as Jack in “Into the Woods.”

His strong velvety vocals emphasize he is no lightweight, heart-tugging in “Close Every Door.”  He commands the stage confidently, capably leading the large cast in the group numbers.

Mykal Kilgore as the Pharoah. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

However, the showstopper in this production is Mykal Kilgore.

One of my favorites since I saw him at the Muny Magic concert at the Sheldon in 2017, the affable Kilgore slays as the megawatt Pharoah. It’s as if James Brown and Little Richard had a baby.

 In a departure from the previous Elvis-like personas, Kilgore reaches back to his R&B roots for “Song of the King,” bringing the house down. The Pharoah’s stage time is brief, but his impact is mighty.

Jessica Vosk makes her Muny debut, playing a hands-on narrator who just doesn’t just observe the action from the sidelines, but propels it along. Here, she is a surrogate mother hen to the youngsters as she tells the tale.

Vosk has the powerful pipes to fill an arena and is well-suited for this grand production. She has played the role before, in the 50th anniversary show at the Lincoln Center, and is remarkably assured while the action bubbles up around her.

Other noteworthy debuts are multi-hyphenate Eric Jordan Young in the dual role of well-meaning Jacob and flamboyant Potiphar, and Darron Hayes as playful Judah, who takes the lead in “Benjamin Calypso.”

The adult choir is chock-full of Muny regulars, and some familiar castmates are playing brothers. Dynamic Harris Milgrim, a standout as Benjamin in last year’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” is again as Reuben in “One More Angel.”

Sean Ewing, in his third season at the Muny, is second son Simeon, amusing in “Old Canaan Days.”

Not all the hijinks work, for the mashups often are silly, and the gaudy pageantry can easily slide into trivial frivolity, but that’s the problem with the show itself. As the years ago on, they keep gilding the lily, adding more to an already over-the-top show. But it remains a huge crowd-pleaser.

And the joyous look on those kids’ faces on stage said it all. (I counted 40 in the youth ensemble and 14 in the children’s choir, in addition to the 19 in ensemble, not to mention principals.)

Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Edward E. Haynes Jr., the award-winning scenic designer for “Smokey Joe’s Café” last year, combines glitz, a Skittles rainbow of bold colors, and Egyptian symbols for the second act, in a whimsical set reminiscent of Tim Burton and the Marvel superheroes’ cinematic universe.

In a stunning backdrop, he references King Tutankhamen’s gold headdress in a giant piece anchoring a fancy staircase with neon piping..

Video designer Greg Emetaz is in sync with Haynes’ vision, and an extension of the gold-plated theme uniting the looks is on the LED screens.

Costume designer Leon Dobkowski references Vegas showgirls, exotic images and B.C. looks to create sparkly outfits and a sunny vibe. His elaborate headdresses are something special to see. The different gold fabrics stand out in garments, and kudos to wig designer Kelly Jordan for the Pharoah’s massive ‘do.

Jason Lyons’ lighting design capitalizes on the wonder and magical parts, and smartly ascertains between the dreamy sequences and the dark times.

It’s fitting that The Muny focused on home, family, relying on each other and connection for the last show of the 104th season, particularly after what they endured from mid-June to now with the double-whammy of back-to-back floods, extreme heat – even by St. Louis standards (oh you layered Edwardian Londoners in “Mary Poppins”!), and a new strain of COVID-19 on the rise in the region (but thanks to understudies and swings, the shows went on).

In his annual farewell address, Mike Isaacson, executive producer and artistic director since 2011, joked that the season was ‘biblical,’ and who could argue?

Known for its fizzy fun, “Joseph” delivered a spectacle to end the season on a high-spirited note.

If you think of the Muny in terms of a summer vacation, “Chicago” was nightlife fun, “Camelot” was a Renaissance Faire, “Mary Poppins” was a trip to the Magic House, “Legally Blonde” was a class reunion, “Sweeney Todd” was visiting the Louvre, “The Color Purple” was the Smithsonian and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was a trip to Disneyland.

Until we meet again under the stars in Forest Park, here’s raising a glass to a summer tradition that I am grateful for, and will never ever take for granted.

Cast of ‘Joseph.’ Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The Muny presents the musical “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” Aug.13-18 at 8:15 pm. Performances take place on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information, visit www. muny.org.

Eric Jordan Young. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Plays with substantial women roles were spotlighted at the seventh annual St.
Louis Theater Circle Awards March 25, with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’
musical production of “Evita” and a homegrown “A Streetcar Named Desire” from
the third annual Tennessee Williams Festival each receiving seven awards.

Both iconic female-lead shows had received the most
nominations, 11 apiece, when the Circle announced them in January. The awards
recognized outstanding work locally produced by regional professional companies
during the calendar year 2018.

Nominees Kari Ely and Michelle Hand in “Into the Breeches!”The comedy “Into the Breeches!”, the first play in Shakespeare
Festival St. Louis’ new program, “In the Works,” won four awards. The world
premiere was in January 2018, with its first St. Louis performances in
September. The comedy from Chicago playwright George Brant is about a
fictitious theater group in 1942, and with the men away at war, the director’s
wife sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V.” It had roles for
six women and two men. In addition to awards for ensemble, director Nancy Bell
and best production, Michelle Hand won best actress.

The Circle, which includes veteran area theater critics, annually recognizes outstanding work in comedies, dramas and musicals, and with two opera categories.

Each of the 33 categories featured five nominees, with 23 local companies cited for 54 shows, and 120 artists receiving nods, including 10 with two apiece.

This year, there were three ties: sound design in a play, costume design in a musical and musical ensemble.

Evita won seven awards from the Circle“Evita,” the vibrant Tony Award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, earned awards for musical direction (Charlie Alterman), choreography (Gustavo Zajac and Mariana Parma), set design (Luke Canterella), lighting (John Lasiter), director (Rob Ruggiero, his third), ensemble and production of a musical.

The landmark “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written in 1947 by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams, who spent his formative years in St. Louis, earned honors for Sophia Brown as Outstanding Actress – for her heart-wrenching portrayal of the emotionally needy and mental fragile faded beauty Blanche Dubois, sound design (original music by Henry Palkes and sound by Amanda Werre), lighting design (Sean M. Savoie), set design (James Wolk), direction (Tim Ocel), ensemble and production of a drama.

The 18 other awards went to separate shows, with both The
Black Rep and The Muny winning three apiece, and The Rep adding two more for earning
the most, nine.

Jeff Cummings and Katy Keating in “Life Sucks.” Photo by ProPhotoSTLIn comedy, Katy Keating won for Supporting Actress as feisty but unrequited lovesick Sonia in New Jewish Theatre’s “Life Sucks,” a ‘sort of’ adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Aaron Posner. She was also part of the award-winning ensemble of “Into the Breeches!”.

Isaiah Di Lorenzo in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo by Ron James.Isaiah Di Lorenzo won Supporting Actor as The Player, the leader of the Tragedians, in St. Louis Shakespeare’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” He also was in the award-winning ensemble of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Will Bonfiglio as Mary Dale in “Red Scare on Sunset.” Photo by Justin Been. Will Bonfiglio won his second Outstanding Actor Award, as film star Mary Dale in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Red Scare on Sunset.” He was honored in 2017 for the one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar,” also at Stray Dog.

For costume designs, Lou Bird won for The Rep’s “Born Yesterday” vintage wardrobe in the play category and there was a tie in the musical category between Leon Dobkowski, who won for The Muny’s colorful “The Wiz,” and Darryl Harris for the elegant “Crowns: A Gospel Musical” at The Black Rep.

There was another tie in sound design in a play – besides “Streetcar,” Rusty Wandall won for Lucas Hnath’s contemporary “The Humans” at The Rep.

Laurie McConnell, left, as Birdie Hubbard in “The Little Foxes.” Photo by Patrick HuberIn drama, Laurie McConnell won Supporting Actress as forlorn
Birdie Hubbard in St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The
Little Foxes.” She won in 2017 for Supporting Actress in a Musical, for her portrayal
of Joanne in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company.

Eric Dean White as Satan and Chris Ware as Judas. Photo by Ann AuerbachEric Dean White, a previous nominee, won Supporting Actor for playing the slick, smooth, haughty and conniving Satan in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Ron Himes in “Fences”

Another previous nominee and winner, Ron Himes won Outstanding Actor as bitter garbage collector Troy in August Wilson’s “Fences at The Black Rep last winter. In 2014, The Black Rep won best ensemble and production for “The Whipping Man.”

The Black Rep’s “Torn Asunder” best new playThe Black Rep also won Best New Play for Nikkole Salter’s “Torn
Asunder,” which dramatized true stories of newly emancipated African Americans
trying to overcome the vestiges of slavery so they could reconnect with their
families.

Joy Boland won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the imposing villainess sea witch in Variety Theater’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”

Beth Leavel as Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” Photo by Philip Hamer.For their powerhouse musical performances, Corbin Bleu won Outstanding Actor as the fleet-footed matinee idol Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain” and Beth Leavel was honored as the controlling stage parent Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” both at The Muny.

Corbin Bleu in “Singin’ in the Rain” at The Muny. Photo by Phil Hamer.Leavel had been nominated three times before (“Hello Dolly!” “Oklahoma!” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” all at the Muny. She is currently performing on Broadway in a St. Louis-produced original musical, “The Prom.”

Stephanie Merritt and Kent Coffel in “The Light in the Piazza” Kent Coffel won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as well-meaning haberdasher Signor Naccarelli, Fabrizio’s father, in “The Light in the Piazza,” presented by R-S Theatrics in its St. Louis regional premiere.

Anything Goes at New Line Theatre. Photo by Jill Ritter LindbergTying with “Evita” for musical ensemble was New Line Theatre’s vivacious “Anything Goes.”

It was a three-peat for Ruggiero, who won for directing “Evita,” and had previously been honored for The Rep’s productions of “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

“Regina” at OTSL was Outstanding Opera ProductionIn the opera categories, Opera Theatre of St. Louis was honored
for both Outstanding Achievement in Opera, which was given to director Patricia
Racette for “La Traviata,” and the Mark Blitzstein adaptation of “The Little Foxes”
— “Regina,” as Outstanding Production of an Opera.
Three special awards were bestowed:  To the
Muny for a century of performances celebrated during its centennial season of
2018; to Kathleen Sitzer, founder and long-time artistic director of the New
Jewish Theatre, for lifetime achievement; and to Steven Woolf, Augustin
artistic director of The Rep for more than 30 years, also for lifetime
achievement.

Sitzer retired after New Jewish Theatre’s 2017-18 season, while Woolf will retire after The Rep’s 2018-19 season this spring. Organized in 2012, the St. Louis Theater Circle includes founding members Steve Allen of stagedoorstl.com, Mark Bretz of the Ladue News, Robert A. Cohn of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Chris Gibson of Broadway World, Gerry Kowarsky of HEC-TV’s “Two on the Aisle,” Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX, Judith Newmark, now of judyacttwo.com, Ann Pollack of stlouiseats.typepad.com, Lynn Venhaus, now of St. Louis Limelight magazine, Bob Wilcox of HEC-TV’s Two on the Aisle, and Calvin Wilson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tina Farmer of KDHX and Michelle Kenyon of snoopstheatrethoughts.com. Eleanor Mullin is the administrator.

Those who helped produce the show at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University included Andrea Torrence and Peggy Holly, who put together the slide show; awards assistance Hannah Daines, stage manager Alycia Martin and assistant stage manager Delaney Dunster, voice-over announcer Colin Nichols and box office assistants Kimberly Sansone and Harry Ginsburg.

Renowned local musician Joe Dreyer was the accompanist and Deborah Sharn performed an opening number.

Special thanks to Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, Price Waterhouse Cooper LLC, who tabulate the Circle ballots, and to the awards certificate calligrapher Susan Zenner.

Contact the Circle by email: stltheatercircle@sbcglobal.net and like us on Facebook.

Evita at The RepInto the Breeches! at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

“La Traviata” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis