Fine voices lift Reagle’s family-friendly ‘Joseph’

Ayla Brown (center) as NARRATOR with the children’s chorus performing “A Pharaoh’s Story.” Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott

WALTHAM –Before there was the “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,”a cantata premiered in 1970 by the very young duo of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice.

It was the duo’s second collaboration, based on the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” began life as a 60-minute cantata and Lloyd Webber and Rice eventually expanded it to 90 minutes so it would have more commercial value.

The show first came to Broadway in 1982 and was revived in 1993, lifting the then-fading star of Donny Osmond and becoming a favorite in the musical theater canon; Lloyd Webber’s production group estimated that by 2008 there had been more than 20,000 school and amateur productions.

The Reagle Music Theatre production of “Joseph” now at the Robinson Theater is a sprightly, family-friendly show with three fine voices in the key roles, and a robust supporting cast.

“Joseph” retells the Biblical story of Jacob and his many sons – an even dozen – and one special son, Joseph (Peter Mill), whom Jacob favors – even providing him with a special “coat of many colors” to mark his special status.

Jealously, alas, rears its ugly head and Joseph is sold off into slavery by the brothers, who return mournfully to report their brother’s death to Jacob.

But Joseph has a special talent, one that will come to the fore when he finds himself enslaved under the thumb of the Pharaoh in Egypt.

He can interpret dreams, and when the Pharaoh has a particularly disturbing one. Joseph is able to predict seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Made an advisor to the Pharaoh, he successfully helps Egypt steer its way through the crisis.

Director/Choreographer Susan M. Cherbookjian – the show has almost no spoken dialogue and is sung through, so having one person assume both roles makes perfect sense –chose to add 15-20 minutes of additional comtent to flesh out the second act, reprising some songs, adding dance numbers that involved the entire 50-person cast and had a lot of energy. Some of the added material does start to become a bit repetitive.

The star power of former “American Idol” contestant Ayla Brown as The Narrator helps light up “Joseph.”

The statuesque Brown moves with an easy grace befitting a former basketball star who has been tested through the grind of live TV and concerts, not to mention being front and center during her father Scott Brown’s political campaigns.

Her stage presence is both natural and unforced and she definitely has tilted consciously towards a country sound, which fits the vibe of many of the Lloyd Webber/Rice numbers.

It is clear upon her entrance she has some built-in goodwill from her TV and personal appearances.

Mill’s rising career is largely a result of 10 apperances in Reagle shows, and for other troupes such as Moonbox Productions, garnering two IRNE award nominations along the way, usually in supporting roles. This is the first time at Reagle he’s been asked to shoulder a big part of the load and he’s more than up to the task.

Lloyd Webber and Rice had a lot of fun mixing and matching song genres here, such as country and western (“One More Angel in Heaven”) , go-go/disco (Go, Go, Go Joseph”) calypso (“Benjamin Calypso”) and even a French torch song (“Those Canaan Days”).

They saved their two best numbers– “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door” – for Joseph himself, and Mill’s reditions shine a bright light on the tunes.

Andrew Giordano once again proves he has few peers when it comes to marrying comedy with music, as he effortlessly and skillfully channels Elvis in his show-stopping, scenery-chewing turn as the Pharaoh in “Poor, Poor Pharaoh” and “Song of the King,” both Elvis sightings coming long before the birth of Christ.

Rick Shelburne, another Reagle mainstay, lends support as both Jacob and Potiphar and two of Jacob’s sons — Tavon Gamble as Naphtali and Jacob Sherburne as Dan – both get a chance to shine.

The 21-member children’s chorus injects lot of energy and enthusiasm into the piece and is given a lot to do.

Conductor Dan Rodriguez’s orchestra handles the various genres well enough. Director/choreographer Chebookjian has been honored in the past for her work and may well be again for her own choreography and recreating the original choreography of Anthony Van Laast.

The Reagle Music Theatre production of “Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat.” Lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Producing Artistic Director Robert J. Eagle. Directed and choreographed by Susan M. Chebookjian. Scenic design by Peter Colad and Richard Schreiber. Lighting design by David Wilson. Music direction by Dan Rodriguez. At the Robinson Theater, Waltham, through June 18.

Peter Mill as JOSEPH (left) and Andrew Giordano as PHARAOH. Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott