One might say the leading man in Mill Race Theatre Company’s latest production slips into the title character’s role — literally.
Benjamin Seiwert slips on the classic wardrobe piece near the beginning of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which opens Friday and plays through Sunday at Judson Erne Auditorium in Columbus.
“That coat is a lot,” Seiwert said, referring to the elaborate, costumed work of retired teacher Margaret Offenbacher featured in the first local production of the show in 1986. “It’s really like a blanket.”
The local troupe promises to wrap the age-old Biblical Book of Genesis tale of a boastful Joseph and his jealous brothers in the warmth of both whimsical and serious tunes ranging from country to calypso, from rock to rollicking jazz.
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So while parts of the story remain serious regarding betrayal and forgiveness, the general presentation comes across as purposely campy, over-the-top entertainment.
What else can you call it when the brothers lie and tell their father that Joseph is dead and the scene ends in a happy hoedown?
But the musical of many colors and the mix of the silly and sublime took some getting used to. Seiwert, a Mill Race veteran from the past four summer shows, had to let his opening tune, “Any Dream Will Do,” gradually grow on him, since he originally disdained a bit of its ’80s sound.
“But the more I sang it every day, I really grew to like it,” Seiwert said, adding that he was new to the show, despite its lengthy, popular, Tony-nominated history. “I now think it’s a really fun piece — and great to sing with the kids’ choir.”
Seiwert serves as a good example of the polished talent for the musical. He’s currently in the second year of his master’s in music study at Indiana University’s prestigious Jacobs School of Music. That’s just one reason organizers of the show featuring the well-known song “Go, Go, Go Joseph” clearly are telling to people to go go go see the legendary tale of sibling rivalry run amok.
Current show director John Johnson was part of Columbus North High School’s “Joseph” production, the area’s first, in 1986, when he played Judah, one of the brothers, in the first musical he ever did at age 15.
“That show really sort of informed how I now like to tell stories, using music constantly to bridge things and to keep things moving. At that time, those were things I didn’t understand that musicals could even do,” Johnson said.
“It really opened my mind to a way that stories could be told. So it was hugely influential. But I didn’t fully realize it until I began working on this show,” he added.
Johnson has made a point for this version of the production to highlight odd or different elements throughout: Joseph as the “different” sibling, or one literal black sheep in the brothers’ lamb herd.
“We keep going back to that idea — until, eventually, the brothers get to experience that on their own,” Johnson said.
Ben Jackson, who played Potiphar in that Columbus North production, plays Dan, one of the brothers, in the current incarnation. While he readily acknowledges that the character of Joseph faces injustice, he looks at the story with a bit more of a practical, streetwise view — especially considering that Joseph seems clueless that his early boasting and self-aggrandizing prophecy will serve only to offend and outrage his brothers.
“When you look at it, Joseph initially is being a big jerk — and narcissistic and vain,” Jackson said.
And sure, the script offers a few lessons. But, for those who never have seen the story unfold, the proceedings lean more to levity and laughter as Joseph struggles from the pit to the palace.
“There’s not a lot of heavy theology. …It’s a nice, feel-good story,” Jackson said.
Joyce Wire, who worked backstage in the 1998 Mill Race Players’ version of “Joseph,” plays the wife of Potiphar (the captain of the palace guard) in a dream sequence and a variety of other female roles. She is a singer and actress who has been in Mill Race productions since the late 1970s, and calls this production “an especially, really fun show” featuring more than an amazing coat. She gushes over amazing talent.
“So many of the people we have are so good,” Wire said. “One night during part of a rehearsal I sat in the front row and watched. I was so taken with all of those playing the brothers (of Joseph) and all their expressions and just how funny they are.”
So a cast and crew of about 70 people dreams of big audiences this weekend. And they need no interpreter for that.
What: Mill Race Theatre Company’s production of the long-running musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.
Tickets: $6 for students and senior citizens and $10 for adults. Available at millracetheatre.org
Part of the principal cast:
Joseph – Benjamin Seiwert
Reuben – James Thur
Simeon/Potiphar – Greg Andis
Levi – Nick Hogan
Napthali – Luis Sanchez
Issacar/Butler – Matt Pillar
Asher/Baker – Ben Walker
Dan – Ben Jackson
Zebulon – Daniel Wiehe
Gad- Mattew Frick
Benjamin – Grant Jackson
Judah/Pharaoh – Jeffery Langevin
Jacob – Mark Owens
Narrators – Brittany Davis, Emily Nolting and Lauren Wagner.