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Adaptation more gray than Technicolor

Looking at last week's touring production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, you would hardly have imagined that this hammed-up hodgepodge had begun as a 15-minute cantata, commissioned by a London schoolmaster in 1968. By the time Andrew Lloyd Webber's opus reached the West End back in 1973 -- nine years before it was unveiled on Broadway -- an earlier revision of the work had already been performed in concert at St. Paul's Cathedral.

So Webber's version of Joseph's enslavement and exaltation, his first collaboration with Tim Rice, has evolved more radically in 36 years than the original Genesis story has over the past two millennia. Kids still adore Joseph, and they're still at the heart of its infectious appeal. But in that bygone era of gladrags, gurus and go-go dancers, this work was designed to rekindle the charm of the Old Testament and lure a new generation into its tent.

At the dawn of a new no-Christians-left-behind millennium, with America and Webber's native Britain fiercely at war with an ignorantly defined heathenism, it's understandable that Joseph might go astray and forget its original purpose. Such confusion and wandering, however, are not necessary.

When you see tie-dye costumes turned into cartoons, when dance styles of the 60s and 70s are casually mocked, and when Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) is transformed into a doddering old fool, you wonder whether production director/choreographer Norb Joerder is serious about anything besides making money. Even Jon Secada is enlisted in the buffoonery as Joseph, trading in the dreamer's customary conceit for an obsequious eagerness to please. He wasn't seduced or entrapped by Potiphar's Wife so much as overpowered.

In prison, at the depths of his despair, Secada was still holding back emotionally when he sang the plaintive "Close Every Door." Turns out he was saving himself for a manfully passionate encore of the song -- poured out in Spanish! -- after the final bows and the celebratory "Joseph Megamix." Suddenly when he reverted to English, nearly sobbing "for we have been promised a land of our own," the song became an anthem for nationalism and the right to exist. Israel's? Palestine's? Cuba's? Immigrant Hispanic Americans'? Beats me.

Monica Patton often breathed a welcome gospel fire into her role as the Narrator, but nearly as often, she saddled us with a Dionne Warwick slickness -- seemingly clueless about the import of her words. Edward Staudenmayer made himself completely at home with all the Elvis inflections of Pharaoh. Truth is, with the Vegas gloss that this production slapped onto the palms and pyramids of Egypt -- not to mention the colossal carnival tents of Jacob -- Elvis was at home in this vulgarized Levant.

Elsewhere the comedy feast was occasionally punctuated with famine. While Joerder allowed the silliness of "One More Angel in Heaven" and "Those Canaan Days" to get out of hand, he had a nice touch with the "Benjamin Calypso," idiomatically led by Terrence McKinnley Clowe as Judah.

What struck me afresh was how purely the children's choir shone through all the dreck that had been dumped on this simple flower-power fable over the years. The one brave and noble thing Joerder has done with his Joseph is to make his choir younger than the one we saw in the previous touring caravan that came our way.

No, the new ensemble at Belk Theater wasn't as admirably tight as the one that graced Ovens Auditorium years ago. But when they did achieve perfection, it brought a lump to my throat.

With most of our adult companies shutting down for the holiday, I was able to make a pilgrimage up to I-77 Exit 30 to see the Davidson College premiere of Pastiche. An audacious production it certainly was.

Conceived and directed by Roberto Prestigiacomo, the story was imparted to the actors and dancers in this production via storyboarded images of the heroine's quest -- instead of a script. In a six-week process of incubation and collaboration, the ensemble put together a postmodern "transperformance" that brings together a mix of theater, dance and audiovisuals intended to communicate vividly to the subconscious mind.

Sad to say, some of the concrete pathways to the subconscious went unheeded in this 64-minute fantasia. When Jax Lacaire wasn't looking tentative as our heroine, she was often rushing and garbling Prestigiacomo's text. The dialogue with Carlos Rivera as Santa was particularly unintelligible.

Jax's journey toward maturity among Apple People and Water People was still haunting, thanks to puppetry by Tanya Chartier, costumes by Bethany Prestigiacomo and lighting by Ronnie Higdon. Hannah Legerton as Birth Woman and Amy Trainor as a Clown had sterling cameos.

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