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Fanciful, faithful 'Joseph' takes the stage

Jacob (Ethan Hayes, wearing turban) lets Joseph (Andrew Kreye, front) know he's the favorite son, much to the dismay of Joseph's brothers (background), played by Stephen Craig, Ben Gunhus, Paul O'Connell, Caleb Overlander, Kathy Fuchs, Aaron Marting, Seth Hannasch, Justin Lewis, Darcy Gunhus and Kevin Funk. (Photo by Ruth Nerhaugen/contributor)1 / 2
Nicole Wells (left) as the Narrator tells the story of Joseph, played by Andrew Kreye, in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." The Phoenix Theatre musical opens Thursday at the Sheldon Theatre. (Photo by Ruth Nerhaugen/contributor)2 / 2

By Ruth Nerhaugen

"Fanciful and funny" doesn't typically describe a story from the Bible -- unless that story has been reinterpreted for Broadway.

But "fanciful and funny" is exactly how Director Sean Dowse likes to describe Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's interpretation of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Phoenix Theatre is presenting the musical version of the biblical story July 11-13 and 19-21 at the Sheldon Theatre, including a matinee for the final performance.

"There's lots of humor in it, as well as some nice serious moments," said Dowse, the Sheldon's executive director, adding that "Joseph" is suitable for all ages.

The story of Jacob and his 12 sons comes from the Book of Genesis. When Jacob gives his favorite, Joseph, a "coat of many colors," the others become jealous and decide to get rid of him.

Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, where he rises through the ranks. After a series of adventures, his talent for interpreting dreams brings him into the service of the Pharoah. When his brothers come to Egypt looking for help because of a famine back home, the stage is set: Revenge or reunion?

The adventures are set to a variety of pop music styles ranging from country swing to rock 'n' roll to calypso, Dowse said -- plus "The Song of the King," performed in classic Elvis style by the Pharoah.

"We have lots of great performers," Dowse said, including some new faces as well as Phoenix regulars. Among the new faces is that of Andrew Kreye, who is making his Sheldon acting debut as Joseph.

"He's worked in the pit orchestra before," Dowse said, "but it's the first time he tried out for a play."

Kreye, who is from Wabasha, will attend St. Olaf College in the fall to study vocal and instrumental music.

"He's got a great voice, and he's got great vulnerability," Dowse said.

In addition, "He and the Narrator, Nicole Wells, make a great pair," Dowse added, citing a synergy that's evident when both are on stage -- which happens quite a lot. "She tells the story. He is the story."

Wells is also making her first Phoenix appearance, Dowse said, noting, "She really knows how to belt."

"Joseph" has a lot of great tunes, the director added, describing the score as "a catalog of pop music forms." Among well-known songs are "Any Dream Will Do," "Go-Go Joseph" and the Elvis number.

"They all work together in one great, wonderful stew," Dowse said.

He pointed out that the production is "a sung-through musical with no dialogue. The music, acting and dance are integral. All the elements have to be working."

Vocal director is Dawn Conroy-Pretto, while Rob Schmidtke is conducting the "pop pit" orchestra of high school students and adults playing guitars, percussion, keyboard and woodwinds. The children's choir is directed by Gretchen Anderson, with Esther Gullixson assisting.

"The production is all very precise," Dowse said. With all the principals, 11 extra brothers and nearly three dozen wives, Ishmaelites, dancers and choir members, "You almost have to choreograph every moment."

Phoenix Theatre brought in an expert to help with that particular task, Dowse said. James Grigsby, a Twin Cities choreographer who teaches at an arts elementary school in the Cities, is working with the cast on movement.

Every part of the production is critical, Dowse added, from the colorful costumes -- organized by Karen Boek and Hannah Quinn -- to key props handled by Jared Mitchell and Danielle Flaugh with set designer Heather Finholm.

Finholm's set is "pretty basic," Dowse said. "The (show) has to move really quickly and run seamlessly through the scenes." To facilitate that, the props move instead of the set, and the audience is invited to use its collective imagination.

Helping with that are special lighting, designed by Evie Trulen, and sound, by Deja Crandell. Stage manager is Kirsten Bluhm with Tori Miller assisting.

Overall, Dowse said, "People are going to be impressed with this cast. They will have a really good time."

Tickets are available now at the Sheldon, 443 W. Third St., or by calling 651-388-8700 or going online to Cost is $22.50 for adults and $14.50 for students. A flyer offering reduced prices is available to people for whom cost is a barrier to attending the play.

If you go ...

Phoenix Theatre

What: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

When: 7 p.m. July 11-13, 19-20; 2 p.m. July 21

Where: Sheldon Theatre, 443 W. Third St.

How much: $22.50 adults, $14.50 students

More info: 651-388-8700,