Centerstage Academy is going Old Testament with its latest production, a reimagining of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the James-York Playhouse Friday and Saturday.
The musical draws from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, retelling the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors, a gift from his father that sparked envy from his brothers.
“It has something special,” said director Matthew Sanderson. “I feel like it’s a really kind, heartwarming story. It tells a great story of forgiveness.”
The production marks the culmination of a class that runs in tandem with the school year, meeting every Friday night to teach the concepts behind acting, choreography, reading music and more. The students range in age from 10-16 across varying experience levels.
“We have the benefit of getting to know the kids before we start a production. We really get to know who the kids are,” Sanderson said, adding skills such as auditioning and improvisation can transition into the trials of everyday life, such as public speaking and interviewing for jobs.
Soon after the dawn of the new year, the class shifts focus toward a full-fledged production.
“It was not an easy choice. You want something that’s really going to showcase your kids well,” Sanderson said.
He felt confident students were up to the task of tackling the 1970 work, with its music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.
Sanderson chose to frame the oft-produced musical in the context of a classroom of children eager to learn and participate in the story, trading roles at different points to share the story’s wealth. Multiple students take on the same role at different points, including four trading off in the lead role of Joseph.
“Normally, you wouldn’t see kids do stuff this good,” said Connor Auby, 14, one of four Josephs in the production and a Centerstage student of five years. “It’s just a good story.”
In the same vein as “Les Miserables,” the tale is told entirely through song, with no spoken dialogue. Despite the Old Testament setting, the performers incorporate more contemporary influences, such as the Charleston dance popularized during the 1920s and rhythm-and-blues sounds like something out of the 1980s.
“The music is eclectic,” Sanderson said. “It’s all intertwined. It’s fun, too.”
Abby Langer, a 13-year-old in her first year with Centerstage, said she’s learned tap dancing and how to approach the audition process while bonding with her classmates and castmates and having fun along the way.
“Theater is just as much fun to see as it is to perform,” she said, praising the positive message found within “Joseph.” “Each audience member will probably enjoy this show. You won’t get bored.”
Want to go?
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” runs 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the James-York Playhouse, 200 Hubbard Lane. Tickets are $15, $10 for children 10 and younger, and are available at williamsburgplayers.org or by calling 229-0431.
Birkenmeyer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 757-790-3029 or on Twitter @sethbirkenmeyer.