For Shaun Felegy, it’s a bit surreal to be back at Anoka High School directing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” the famous musical that had a remarkable run at the school in 1995 and will be back again this week.
Felegy was a sophomore in 1995 and played one of Joseph’s 11 brothers. He had only one line in the show, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s whimsical take on a biblical story, but the production made an impression on him — and many others.
It boasted a record-setting 21 sold-out performances in the 850-seat school auditorium and played to nearly 21,000 people altogether, according to Felegy. “Joseph” was the fall musical that year, but because of its success, it became the winter musical, too, when the school decided to forgo a separate show in favor of extending the run.
The production also was featured on the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge Internet Exposition in 1996, which highlighted young artists around the globe.
“The community response was beyond the scope of anything I could’ve imagined,” Felegy said.
The show was a major undertaking, featuring a 105-member cast, elaborate set pieces including a 6-foot-tall fiberglass and foam camel on wheels, a plethora of colorful costumes, a sizable pit orchestra and a group of gymnasts.
After high school, some who were in the show went on to professional theater careers.
“Joseph” also has had staying power in Anoka. The high school put it on again nearly 10 years ago, and now, the new production is stirring memories once more.
Some people Felegy hasn’t talked to since the earlier run have gotten in touch with him, while others will be coming to see the show.
He has even found himself turning to former technical director Brian Sherman for advice. It’s hard to say whether he’s borrowing anything specific from the previous show, but “I’m sure in the back of my mind, I’m stealing a lot from it,” Felegy said.
To a new generation of players, he’s trying to convey “how much we played off each other, how much of an ensemble we became. I want to push them to trust each other and come together to have fun.”
“I thought, ‘that’s cool’”
Felegy, who by day is a social studies teacher at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, discovered an interest in theater after seeing a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” starring Donny Osmond when he was in seventh grade.
“I thought, ‘that’s cool. I want to do that,’ ” Felegy said.
As he notes in the program for the current show, he was motivated to write a musical about teenagers, parents and rebellion. “It was really bad,” he said.
Felegy said his early exposure to “Joseph” changed his understanding of theater, or what it can be. “You often think of theater as such a highbrow endeavor … but this was done for the sake of being fun.”
Although the musical originated in the 1960s, it’s still relevant today, Felegy said: “It’s accessible and entertaining and it has great melodies,” he said, adding, “People connect to it.”
That’s what made him want to reprise it this year at the school. Also, it dawned on him that it had been 20 years since the first show.
Now, seeing the players onstage, he said, “You see glimmers of people from the past production in the new people. It’s a fun experience.”
A chance to grow
Bjorn Skogquist played Joseph in 1995, when he was a high school senior. “I couldn’t have asked for a better role at a better time,” he said.
Several years later, at age 22, Skogquist was elected to the first of four terms as mayor of Anoka. He isn’t shy about public speaking, something he attributes to his theater experience. “Performing in front of so many people night after night, you lose that fear,” he said.
It was rewarding seeing how the community “took pride in the show, it had ownership,” he said.
So much attention went into the finest details, he said. Even just the coat he wore for moments on stage took hundreds of hours to make, he said.
Before opening night, “There was a lot of wringing of hands, fretting over what it looked like, what it sounded like, how it felt,” Skogquist said.
In the end, “I think we put out a really good show. People pick up on that energy and enthusiasm,” he said. He’s looking forward to joining the audience this time around.
Molly Fischer was the narrator, a role that requires being onstage almost the length of the performance.” She remembers that music teacher Michelle Hayes, who worked on the vocal direction with Bruce Phelps, told her, “ ‘you need to have attitude. I know you’re 16 but you need to be a grown-up sassy lady,’ ” Fischer said. “It was an injection of confidence, playacting at being an adult.”
Hayes once again is working with the show’s singers, and her daughter, Molly, is the narrator now.
Michelle Hayes says the show had a lot going for it then, and has a lot going for it now. “It’s such a grand production with the color, the biblical royalty,” and a mash-up of genres, plenty of solos and fun parts, she said.
Felegy hopes this show will inspire a new generation. “I would love for one of the cast members now to come back 20 years later and be a part of doing it again,” he said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.