Arts & Culture

Gateway’s extravaganza: Go, Go, Go Joseph

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:34 PST, Mon December 16, 2019

Last Updated: 2:34 PST, Tue January 7, 2020

Utterly, vibrantly amazing. Richmond’s Gateway Theatre pulls out all the stops for this year’s seasonal production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. With a large cast, live orchestra and full production values, this is professional theatre at the top of its game all within a few minutes of home.  

While the musical takes the story from Genesis starting in Chapter 37, Joseph’s story appears in all three Abrahamic religions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Coming from an oral tradition, the tale is ripe for the telling. And tell it this production does.  

Using a narrator to sing the scenes into existence worked well, particularly because of director Barbara Tomasic’s choice of Chelsea Rose to play (and sing magnificently) the role. Rose’s voice was deep and rich at times but her high notes were also clear. She has range both vocally and with her acting.  

There were a couple of other standouts. Oliver Castillo as Joseph shone. His power, dancing, singing and emotional range were spot-on. He’s a true professional. 

And someone who I had in my notes early as “the dancer with pink hair,” who later turned out to play Pharoah, was Madeleine Suddaby. (Doubling or tripling up on roles is the norm in this production. It works beautifully.)

Suddaby, an early standout for her dancing, turned out to be a powerful dancer and singer, in very high beglittered shoes, during her turn as Pharoah. As written, the role leaves room to really camp up the ancient Egyptian leader’s songs. When done at Theatre Under the Stars, Pharoah looked and sang like Elvis. In the Gateway production, Suddaby belts out her songs as jazzy blues numbers that bring the house down, especially after her reprise. 

The costume design worked well. At one point, early on, Joseph’s brothers add the colours to his coat, even adding sleeves. One aspect of costume design the audience neither sees, nor should notice, is the ease with which outfits can be changed in the hustle bustle backstage, in this case by a large group of people. It worked and worked well. Kudos to Christina Sinosich for all aspects of her designs. 

One confusing bit was the role of a young boy who went around with the narrator throughout the production. I asked other theatre-goers if they could figure out his role and they too were a little perplexed. The best guess from one audience member was that perhaps the whole thing was supposed to have been his bedtime dream.  

Originally written for the students in an all-boys school, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat used to have no roles for women. Director Tomasic ignored that, opting for gender-blind casting. It worked magnificently.  

Another good choice by director Tomasic was the use of a live orchestra. Their responsiveness to the actors throughout the production, and later when circumstances presented an unexpected challenge, adds vibrancy to the whole production, as only real musicians can.  

The choice of different musical styles added spice. The way that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat leaves lots of room for stylistic interpretation. The country and western numbers were a hoot. The dancing was beat-perfect. 

And it wasn’t just the dancing. The chorus made every word, crystal clear. No mean feat when coordinating so many voices. 

Sitting fairly well back in Gateway Theatre, we could hear every word because each performer wore a hidden microphone. The sound was spectacular, crisp and clean.  

The entire show is sung. To understand the plot, you have to understand what people are singing. The only time it was sometimes difficult was when the orchestra was louder than an individual singer but that is often something that gets ironed out early in a run. It’s sometimes the disadvantage to seeing a production on opening night, before all the kinks are worked out.  

And, for kinks, the sound system threw the male lead a zinger. Part way through the second half, Castillo’s microphone crackled loudly twice, then, died. What a pro! As Joseph, he continued on without missing a beat, projecting so that we could all hear clearly. 

Equally professional were the person on the sound board Ken Macdonald who subtly dropped everyone else’s volume, and the orchestra leader Christopher King who softened the musicians’ volume. It worked seamlessly.  

After the performance, Tomasic said, “It really was a group effort, cast, backstage team, Stage Management, Oliver (Castillo) and Chris (King). It was everyone who adjusted, but mostly it was Oliver (Castillo) who flawlessly directed his voice towards the audience.”   

At the opening night reception, I asked a number of audience members if what seemed a momentary glitch reduced the pleasure of the performance. They were clear. It didn’t. Not one bit. 

And, the applause, cheers, and standing ovation after the performance echoed that sentiment. Loud cheers erupted as Rose the Narrator, and Castillo as Joseph took their bows. Particularly enthusiastic were the also ovations for Suddaby as she did her curtain call.  

Speaking to the assembled guests at the reception, director Tomasic said, “For all the dancing you see on stage, there is a crew backstage dancing even harder, to make everything work.” For example, I don’t know how the costume changes, for such a large chorus, happened so seamlessly. 

The pop-up concession got into the spirit, with treats for sale in technicolour hues. Even the lunch counter’s hot chocolate had rainbow sprinkles.  

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is vibrant fun for the whole family. Behind us sat three generations of one family. They all enjoyed it.  

The one caveat is that four performances sold out before the show opened, so it might be best to get your tickets soon. For tickets and information go to gatewaytheatre.com, order by phone at 604-270-1812 or go in person to the Gateway Theatre Box Office at 6500 Gilbert Rd.

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