A director of musical theater has to be many things: a coach, a technician, a conductor and a visionary. Tom Width, the guiding force behind the current production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" playing at Swift Creek Mill, also has to be a bit of a shepherd. Just getting the 21 cast members of this fast-paced, dance-filled musical moving in the right direction seems a daunting task.
Luckily, Width has the talent to do much more than just synchronize his actors. He orchestrates giddy bursts of fun and harmony with his energetic crew, infusing new life into one of the most frequently produced musicals in the country. Along with choreographer Mickey Nugent and musical director Paul Deiss, Width turns the biblical story of Joseph into a swirling succession of magical moments with songs that soar and scenes that snap with lighthearted vitality.
The onstage tour guide for this adventure is Cathy Motley-Finch, who lends her robust voice and charming demeanor to her role as the narrator. She expertly relates the saga of Joseph (Brett Ambler), who starts out as the favorite among Jacob's 12 sons, but is then betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. Thanks to a lucky break and an inexplicable talent for interpreting dreams, he becomes the right-hand man of Egypt's pharaoh and is eventually in a position to determine the fate of his downtrodden brothers. Ambler makes an appealing Joseph, projecting amiability, even when enslaved, and humility, even when exalted.
Of other exceptional performances, Jason Marks is hilarious in his dual roles of sorrowful patriarch Jacob and Egyptian millionaire Potifar. He is complemented by a comely Amy Kaeberle as Mrs. Potifar, while James Opher makes the most of his 10 minutes in the spotlight as the swivel-hipped pharaoh. But it is the ensemble numbers that really sparkle under Width's direction, as Reuben (Fernando Rivadeneira) conducts his brothers through the uproariously melodramatic "Canaan Days" or Judah (Durron Tyre) launches into the "Benjamin Calypso" while the rest of the cast rocks to that island beat.
In other hands, "Joseph" can be little more than an entertaining trifle, full of frenzied activity and specious emotional dynamics (after all, the cycle of betrayal and retribution between Joseph and his brothers would seem to suit tragedy better than comedy). But when you, like director Tom Width, have crowd control down to a science, the flurry of action coalesces into a satisfying smorgasbord of musical delight. S
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is now showing at Swift Creek Mill Theatre in Colonial Heights, with shows Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and selected afternoon matinees through June 9. Tickets are $31.50-$33.50. 748-5203.