21 September – 5 October 2019 / Theatre Hawke’s Bay, Hastings Playhouse / By Bridie Freeman
This is the third local theatre production I’ve seen this year that has opened with an ensemble piece: kids in the dark, glued to their phones, lit by the blue glow of their screens. It’s the de rigueur, contemporising theatrical device, framing a classic – and the relevance of its message – within our troubled present. And fresh from the climate strikes, it’s hard not to read the show through the lens of Generation Greta, those stolen childhoods and dreams. The kids chorus as metaphor, their hair in neat plaits, compelling Joseph to follow his vision, dare to be different, and ‘go, go, go!’ as they trail rainbow ribbons from painted ladders, playfully spilling down a slide onto the stage. But, screens aside, it would be wrong to dig too deeply for meaningful messages here in such joyous, unapologetic entertainment.
Theatre Hawke’s Bay’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, directed by Michael Sharp, with musical direction by Amanda Cooper, is a slick, riotous romp through a clever mish-mash of different genres, styles and juxtapositions – all fabulously executed. The costumiers clearly had a ball. There’s a regional Kiwiana touch, with art deco and beach wear, dressing gowns and slippers, allusions to Hastings’ bountiful fruit basket, the Ishmaelites as gangster grandads – black leather and beards and mobility scooters. And some remarkably flit costume changes (a golden 1930s nymph, for instance, is transformed into a postwar 1940s housewife, with seemingly the flick of a backstage wand). The choreography is stunningly tight, the singing clear and tuneful, carried by the hardworking band concealed beneath the tiered set, who masterfully provide the musical backbone to this lively, hyper-colourful rendition of a perennial favourite.
For pure escapism and frivolous fun, and for all the songs you didn’t think you knew by heart but do, go, go, go to Joseph! My 11-year-old, who plans to go again (and again), says she doesn’t understand how anyone could ever get tired of watching this. With all the worry about our burning world, colourful, whacky Joseph is her perfect antidote.
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