American Idol Anthony Federov stars in the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts’ “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opened this past Friday at the Ordway Center for the Performing Art, only to have to cancel its second show, due to the blizzard. But several critics took the snowed-in weekend to write their thoughts on the over-the-top Biblical musical. Take a look:
One girl dropped a baton, another a faux candle. A young lad was late to his spot in the dance line and struggled to get in sync. While most patrons likely visited the Ordway in St. Paul Friday night to see Anthony Fedorov (“American Idol” finalist a few years ago) in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” 41 young children provided a swarming and delightful charm.
That’s not intended as a slight to Fedorov. He looks like a Nordic god and sings the role beautifully, even if he never overwhelms us with charisma. Nor does it diminish director and choreographer James Rocco. With few exceptions, Rocco’s production glitters with color, dances with fierce energy and sings richly. But amid the lacquered glam, the presence of children keeps this show grounded as an essential fairy tale full of dreams and hope.
Rocco crams his stage with no fewer than 41 local schoolchildren in addition to a cast of two dozen grown-ups. He leaves none of the musical jokes in the score unexplained or unexploited and adds in some original gags of his own creation. He and his company charge their way through a schlock-tacular staging that brims with energy and enthusiasm, but not always with joy.
The director/choreographer engineers a few charmingly creative moments — the 1960s go-go take on the first act finale is nifty and the second act’s “Benjamin Calypso” carries the warm breeze of the islands. But, in the main, there’s a baffle-‘em-with-bull quality to this production that tends to steamroll the show’s gentler charms with a barrage of screaming lights, streamer cannons and volume knobs turned to 11.
Almost from the moment former “American Idol” contestant Anthony Fedorov rises up from a hole in the middle of the stage to play the title role, his challenges are painfully manifest. Perhaps because his breakout performances were geared for the small screen, he’s uncomfortable with a scope and scale of performing for the stage. During his first initial performance of “Any Dream Will Do” at the top of the show, he labors to make a connection with the audience, methodically and mechanically glancing at first the front row, then the mezzanine, the loge and the balcony.
Recognizing the essential morality tale at the story’s core, director/choreographer James A. Rocco stages the production like a carnivalesque version of Sunday school. Serving at times as the choir, a group of children in contemporary costumes flank the stage. At center stage, recounting Joseph’s tale to the children, is the story’s narrator, played by the beatifically poised and angelically voiced Jennifer Paz. Though saddled with lyrics loaded with exposition, Paz relies upon her sterling vocals to gracefully lighten the delivery and even manages to add a sense of playfulness.
Further elevating the material is Rocco’s swirling choreography which keeps the stage in near continuous motion. Supplemented by the florid costume design of Mark Thompson, the ensemble cast bounds from scene to scene, segueing into each of scenic designer Martin Christoffel’s boldly colored backdrops with the tireless animation of a living cartoon.
Though the central figure, Joseph has surprisingly little to do for much of the narrative, guided more by the whims of the divine than by self-determination. Nevertheless, Anthony Fedorov (known best for earning a top spot on the fourth season of American Idol) imbues the role with genuine pathos during such spotlight numbers as “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door.” Fedorov’s crisp timbre serves him well on the musical numbers and the limited depth of the character, ordinarily a narrative shortcoming, actually serves to sidestep too much dramatic lifting.
The challenge for James Rocco, the producing artistic director of the Ordway, was to give this production a fresh look, knowing that most of the show’s likely audience have probably seen this show at least once. Rocco plays up the show’s genesis in 1960s pop culture, using vibrant color in both the costumes and the set. The result is a setting that truly fits a show that takes a story directly from the Bible and tells it using wonderful music and dance numbers, witty lines, and 20th century references. The most obvious such reference is when Pharaoh (Stewart Gregory) takes on the persona of Elvis to relay his crazy dream to Joseph, the interpreter of dreams. While Gregory had the Elvis hair and his costuming was perfect, I felt his voice and characterization could have been stronger. I did find Fedorov’s long blond hair distracting, but the program does remind audience members that though the dark-haired Donny Osmond was the most famous Joseph, in the first Broadway production Joseph was a blond.