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A special show and opportunity

A grant enabled Red Wing's Phoenix Theatre to include non-traditional performers in the Children's Choir for "Joseph." Members include (front row, from left) Sydney Zeimer, Julia Palmatier; (back) Haley Pritchard, Anna Pritchard, Allison Callstrom and Amelia Reinitz.

By Ruth Nerhaugen

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" has never been described as "traditional" theater.

The version of the Broadway musical that Phoenix Theatre will present in July at the Sheldon Theatre is taking an additional step in the "non-traditional" direction, with help from a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant.

Support from the arts agency made it possible to include several children with special needs as members of the play's Children's Choir, and to subsidize ticket prices for a non-traditional audience that may not have attended plays in the past because the expense is a barrier.

"We want every parent to feel that joy of seeing your child on stage at the Sheldon," Helene Olson-Reed explained. Chair of the Phoenix Theatre Board and a member of the team that secured the SEMAC grant, she has those good memories about watching her son perform in plays.

Olson-Reed said she and Greg Nixon, Marcy Watzl and Sheldon Executive Director Sean Dowse came up with the plan, and Bill Foot helped develop the budget for fiscal agent Friends of the Sheldon.

"Joseph" already had been chosen as the summer musical.

"We felt this would be the perfect show, with its youth choir," Olson-Reed said, to include a potential new group of performers.

They approached Esther Gullixson, who is a music therapist for Red Wing School District, about recruiting and supporting children with special needs, and worked with the Children's Choir director, Gretchen Anderson, about proceeding as a team.

She helped explain in the grant application how the production could be beneficial both for the community and for the children, Gullixson said.

"It's great for the kids," she said. "They're getting to be in something they maybe did not know they had an opportunity to be in."

People involved in the production will discover what the children can do, Gullixson added. As for audiences -- "If they notice," she said, "I hope they'll embrace it and be happy to see the kids in the show."

Olson-Reed attended some music therapy concerts for different ages to get a sense of their abilities.

"I thought, 'Wow!'," she said. It was clear to her that the children had a lot to bring to the production -- not just as singers, but also in terms of a good sense of rhythm, or stage presence.

"Music touches people," she said.

Gullixson started calling families to find out if the students and their parents were interested and were able to make the commitment.

"The first five people I called all said yes," she said.

Gullixson is helping out with the five children with special needs and providing support as choir director Anderson blends the 19-member group into a cohesive vocal unit.

They'll have some minor choreography and "a lot of stage time," Olson-Reed said. The chorus performs during about one-third of the show's numbers. They'll have one costume change.

The $6,800 SEMAC grant is supporting extra staff and also will go toward subsidizing some tickets.

The intent is to reach under-served groups in the community for whom ticket price has been a barrier. A limited number of flyers has been distributed at strategic locations in town. People are invited to pick up a flyer and bring it to the Sheldon box office to purchase tickets at reduced price.

Normal cost is $22.50 for adults, $14.50 for students, but with the flyer the price for any patron is $7.50. Olson-Reed stressed that "Joseph" is a family show, suitable for all ages.

Phoenix is also looking into having one or more interpreters "sign" a performance, but officials are still working on that.

As performance dates draw near, "It's kind of exciting," Olson-Reed said, anticipating other special efforts in the future to reach out to non-traditional audiences. "I think it can only grow."

"Joseph," based on the biblical story, will be performed at 7 p.m. July 11-13 and 19-20, and at 2 p.m. July 21, at the Sheldon Theatre. Directed by Sean Dowse, the show features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.

For tickets or more information, call 651-388-8700 or go online to

“Joseph” cast

Narrator: Nicole Wells

Joseph: Andrew Kreye

Jacob: Ethan Hayes

Reuben: Seth Hannasch

Simeon: Paul O’Connell

Levi: Aaron Marting

Naphtali: Darcy Gunhus

Issachar: Stephen Craig

Asher: Kevin Funk

Dan: Caleb Overlander

Zebulon: Ben Gunhus

Gad: Kathy Fuchs

Benjamin: Tommy Keller

Judah: Justin Lewis

Potiphar: Caleb Overlander

Mrs. Potiphar: Anna Ostendorf

Baker: Chelsea Indrehus

Butler: Stephen Craig

Pharaoh: Kevin Funk

Wives, Ishmaelites, dancers, choir: Rickeshia Clarke,  Anna Ostendorf, Elyce Jaeger, Stacey Anderson, Chelsea Indrehus, Emily Dech, Ashlyn Daly, Emily Magnuson, Hannah Gunhus, Tia  Everett, Maddie Groh, Molly Cyr, Amanda Williams, Cate Zenzen and Darcy Gunhus.

Children’s Choir: Eli Anderson, Robert Hoffman, Vivian Ostendorf, Julia Palmatier, Allison Callstrom, Amelia Reinitz, Tori Pritchard, Anna Pritchard, Haley Pritchard, Shelby Chalmeres, Trianna Eubank, Sydney Zeimer, Madison Wood, Justin Kirk, Bryanna Deschand and Brooke Johansen.