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‘Joseph’ delivers rich spectacle
Sight & Sound production tells old familiar story in a big, big way. Sunday News
Mar 07, 2010 00:05 EST
Strasburg
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By STEPHEN KOPFINGER, Correspondent

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 “Joseph” opens with a dream as surreal as anything out of “The Wizard of Oz,” segues into a dance number that wouldn’t have been out of place in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and morphs into an extravaganza that rivals “Cleopatra” or anything directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

Cinematic comparisons end here. For there’s something more powerful in Sight & Sound Theatre’s newest Bible-story production than spectacle: a message that the power to forgive can transcend the seemingly unforgivable.

“Joseph,” about the Old Testament hero famous for his coat of many colors, his dreams, his scheming brothers and his literal delivery from pit to prosperity, debuted in a glittering premiere Friday night at the Millennium Theatre in Strasburg. The curtain rose for the public Saturday. For Sight & Sound fans — and the area’s tourism industry — it’s an event that is as anticipated as tonight’s Academy Awards.

“Every time we see a first-year show, we see a strong bump,” said Chris Barrett, president and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Every time [a Sight & Sound] show opens, it’s a point of light for us.”

The tourist business hopes so, in these recessionary times. A Sunday News article last April noted that restaurants such as Miller’s Smorgasbord and Plain & Fancy Farm and lodgings such as Amish View Inn & Suites were already reporting motor coach tours booking to see “Joseph.” That dovetails with what Barrett has seen — “a lot of buzz” from the motor coach industry from as far away as Virginia and North Carolina.

“It’s complete family,” he said of inspirational fare such as “Joseph.” “It’s church. It’s perfect.”

Mostly delivers
So does “Joseph” deliver in those departments? For the most part, most definitely.

For those unfamiliar with this very old story, Joseph, one of 12 brothers, is the one most favored by the family patriarch, Jacob. Joseph’s status is symbolized by that colorful coat, given to him by his father, much to his brothers’ chagrin. It doesn’t help that Joseph is a dreamer — literally — a young man who dreams that sheaves of wheat gathered by his siblings bow down to him and, later, that he soars among the sun, moon and stars, which also pay homage to him. What does it all mean? Joseph can only explain that God is trying to tell him something.

That’s the last straw for his brothers. They scheme first to kill him by leaving him in a pit to die, then they have a change of heart and sell him into slavery instead. Off to Egypt Joseph goes, where he rises to, then falls from, then rises again, to power. In a twist of fate, Joseph eventually finds himself in a position to forgive — or condemn — the brothers who wronged him.

Joseph the man, played by Joshua Keefer, and “Joseph” the play already have become known in television commercials for the production, which highlights its main character flying over the audience at Millennium Theatre’s cavernous auditorium. One would think this would be the highlight, the show. Or maybe it’s the caravan that transports the enslaved Joseph to Egypt proceeding majestically across the stage, complete with live camels. After all, how often does one get to see camels in Lancaster County?

There’s more
But as they say in showbiz, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Joseph goes from caravan to cruising, in this case, down the Nile on an impressively big ship that sails to the doorstep of Potiphar, the rich man to whom Joseph is sold. The first glimpse of Potiphar’s grand home — with a god-adorned gateway — is an eyeful itself. Were this a silent movie, there would be one of those larger-than-life title cards onscreen reading “EGYPT!”

That’s just the front door. Joseph’s business savvy increases his master’s wealth, resulting in the ultimate home expansion: a jaw-dropping temple-sized abode that surrounds the audience on three sides of the theater, enfolding them in an Egyptian wonderland of gardens, statues and terraces where white horses peer from balconied archways. Mighty Pharaoh drops by for a visit, resulting in a delirious Egypt-o-rama celebration number that’s worth the price of admission alone, but is so spectacular it threatens to overshadow anything that follows. Take note that a large Nile crocodile snakes through the festivities, and down the center aisle.

(And here’s a word of warning: Don’t get up during “Joseph” if you can avoid it. The aisles will be populated with the aforementioned crocodile, phalanxes of Egyptian soldiers, servant girls, dancing girls, Joseph himself and those camels.)

At this point, one would think Joseph has it made. But there’s a serpent in his Egyptian Eden, one Lady Potiphar, memorably played by Melissa Mehrabian. She’s immediately drawn to the handsome Joseph, and at first, she has a kind of campy villainy, even kicking it up in a “Walk Like an Egyptian” number about how to land a prize like Joseph. But her desires soon turn dark, and when Joseph rejects her advances, the lady turns downright nasty and accuses Joseph of impropriety. That lands Joseph back into another kind of dark pit, in this case, prison. Lady Potiphar doesn’t need to come down off of the stage. She makes enough trouble right where she is.

Dreams give Joseph another chance, landing him in Pharaoh’s court. His visions help Egypt weather a devastating famine and result in an ironic reunion with his siblings, who do not recognize him. Now powerful, Joseph can eliminate them — or embrace them. It is at this point that “Joseph” surmounts all the spectacle that has come before, not by sets and costumes and special effects (there is a sweeping animated overview of Egypt that must be seen to be believed) but by the dilemma of a man who reveres God, but finds himself battling the very earthly desire for revenge. Those who know the story know the ending.

Which is what makes “Joseph” a standout. Believers will find affirmation; the nonreligious will find themselves moved by the story’s human emotion. All will be entertained.

FOR TICKETS
“Joseph” runs through Oct. 30. Call Sight & Sound, 800-377-1277, or log on to sight-sound.com.




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