Director Michael Brindisi appeared to be in a good mood as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” opened at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre last weekend. Brindisi said “Joseph” had sold 91 percent capacity for the preview week and looked to be on track for about the same level through May. Coming on the heels of a so-so run for “Bye Bye Birdie” and the “Xanadu” dud, those numbers help explain Brindisi’s smile.
Chanhassen has reason for optimism with “Joseph,” which is making its third run in the past six years, both previous productions selling at 90 percent capacity.
If this new “Joseph” doesn’t hit those marks, it won’t be because the staging differs substantially from the 2007 and 2009 runs. Jodi Carmeli returns as the Narrator, an amiable and inviting presence. Keith Rice is back doing his Elvis shtick as Pharoah — a shameless, hammy 10 minutes of scenery chewing that stops the show. And technically, costumer Rich Hamson and set designer Nayna Ramey have filled the stage with color and imagination. Sue Berger’s lights also pitch into the kaleidoscopic swirl of hues that flood the visual senses.
Brindisi has made a few changes and substitutions.
Jared Oxborough dons Hamson’s amazing garment in the title role. A Chanhassen regular the past few years, Oxborough brings innocence and an irresistible desire to charm us — the perfect ingenue. His smile and his eyes show off glee, discovery, disappointment and redemption. His voice has a naturally soft tone so he doesn’t explode into the Lloyd Webber score with effortless power. Ballads such as “Close Every Door” are his strong suit, and when he gets into a duet with Carmeli, let’s just say that she wears the pants. Still, Oxborough’s Joseph has such a kind heart that we can’t help but like him.
Longtime Chanhassen favorites Tod Petersen and Scott Blackburn take on new roles in this production. Petersen finds a lively bounce in Jacob, patriarch of the tribe of Israel — all the while stoop-shouldered from the weight of his shaggy gray beard — and Blackburn goes over the top in “Those Canaan Days,” an homage to Parisian cabaret music. Andre Shoals, in his first work at Chanhassen, loves the spotlight as he leads “Benjamin Calypso.”
It’s not difficult to analyze why crowds like Chanhassen’s “Joseph.” First, the show is as light and sweet as the Lemon Mist cake that is new on the dessert menu. And it won’t fill you up. We slid out of our booth at 9:44 p.m. — a personal record in 31 productions at Chanhassen. Not that brevity alone should be a criterion, but frothy entertainment is a welcome treat now and then.
Also, the production looks great, with its costuming and Brindisi’s knack for stage pictures; choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson pushes her limber corps of dancers through athletic patterns, and Andrew Cooke again has the band right on the beat. Which, of course, brings us to that Lloyd Webber score, with its repeating motifs and hooks that stick in the inner ear for days — so simple and tuneful.
If I have a complaint with Chanhassen’s production, it is this: The vaudeville shtick gets a little heavy sometimes. “Joseph” is not grand opera and it is built with flexibility enough to invite some camp, but there were moments when I wished they might dial back the nonsense — as crowd-pleasing as that is — and honor the slender but sturdy bones that make this an enduring favorite.