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Post-pubescent Joe 

Plus, some unfinished Symphony business

We do love our Joseph here in Charlotte – even better than Annie! I was on the aisle on Sunday afternoon, way back in Row O, part of a sold-out house at Halton Theater that saw the last performance of CPCC Theatre's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Or at least it was the last performance of 2008. During the Loaf Era, CP has presented Andrew Lloyd Webber's Old Testament crowdpleaser on three separate occasions. For at least one of the touring productions that satisfied our Joseph hunger in the intervals between CP productions, CP was at the helm in choosing and rehearsing the local kids' chorus that hooks up with the national tour at each of its stops.

Yes, CP owns the franchise hereabouts. But the latest Dreamcoat looked nearly as fresh as the audience's enthusiasm for Lloyd Webber's musical smorgasbord and lyricist Tim Rice's hip storytelling. Costumes for Jacob and Joseph's less favored brothers seemed to have been retrieved from mothballs, and I suspect that E's jumpsuit -- Pharaoh is Egypt's king, man -- was another remnant from Bob Croghan's original costume designs.

Joe's fabled coat was definitely new, a knockout design courtesy of Anna Richardson. Of course, Halton is new since the last go-go-go-round of Joseph, and the design team worked admirably to provide a worthy set and eye-popping lighting. Set designer James Duke took advantage of the Halton's advanced capabilities by lowering Joseph's prison cell, the Canaan Cafe, and numerous other locales from the fly loft, while lighting designer Gary Sivak flashed a medley of rainbow colors on the upstage screen as the ensemble sang the glories of "Joseph's Coat."

With Ron Chisholm in the director's chair, the choreography had fresh zing and zest. Showcasing nonpareil usherette Virginia Tracy as a camel was surely a master stroke. Yet an ideal Joseph must have a chiseled young buck in the title role, like Kevin Jayroe of CP's 2001 production, and a stratospheric soprano as our Narrator -- the peerless Mary Setrakian of 1993. Sadly, the 2008 edition sported none of the above.

In her Charlotte debut, Susan Cherin Gundersheim showed plenty of poise and promise, almost belting out the Narrator's story with the requisite oomph and almost reaching those torturous high notes smoothly. Physically, Stuart Williams only proved a slightly better choice than Will Ferrell for the role of Joseph: close to two decades beyond adolescence with traces of Goodyear around the middle. I found myself longing for even the clueless Joseph of 1993, the one who spoke to me so earnestly in a pre-show interview on the tribulations of being a teen idol.

Williams sang better than that dolt, and his final reprise of "Any Dream Will Do" moved me a little. Otherwise, satisfaction only came intermittently -- when Joshua Retamar, as Naphtali, did the "Benjamin Calypso," or when Graves Upchurch topped off his largely unintelligible Pharaoh with a series of kingly pelvic thrusts. Parts of Joseph that I always look forward to, the brothers' weepy country-style disclosure of Joseph's death and the French cabaret wistfulness of "Those Canaan Days," arrived stillborn.

Alyson Lowe briefly woke that corpse with a cameo as an Apache Dancer, and the kids' chorus was always a joy to hear. Actually, I wish Chisholm had put more kids onstage. Maybe then, music director Drina Keen would have given them a higher profile.

Of course, I'm outraging the faithful. Our legion of Joseph groupies is a tough crowd to displease.

 

Charlotte Symphony maestro Christof Perick took care of some unfinished business last week -- and it wasn't just Schubert. But it began that way before Lynn Harrell appeared, and the CSO's performance of the "Unfinished" Symphony #8 was a fine barometer of how far the ensemble had progressed since it last performed the piece with Perick back in 2002.

From the quiet yet turbulent opening to the strings' first truncated intro of the allegro's big tune, there was more gravitas -- and more punch -- to the ensemble. True, the winds as a group sounded just a tad lackadaisical at first, but solos from clarinetist Eugene Kavadlo and fellow principal Elizabeth Landon on flute set things right, and the trombones sounded surer in their second entrance as well.

The concluding andante was unalloyed pleasure with Kavadlo, oboist Erica Cice, and principal hornist Frank Portone all contributing affectingly. Orchestral entries after the sweet noodling had impressive pop and drive. Programmed at the beginning of the evening instead of the end, the "Unfinished" emerged cleansed of its anticlimactic aftertaste. Perhaps Perick has learned a thing or two since 2002.

His main unfinished business dealt with Richard Strauss, whose tone poems have been a Perick specialty throughout his tenure, which we now know will conclude next season. We've had a couple of Till Eulenspiegels, a Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a petite Metamorphosen, and most memorably, Ein Heldenleben ("A Hero's Life"). While a Zarathustra would not be particularly innovative, Perick's advocacy of Strauss would have to be considered incomplete if he hadn't introduced Don Quixote to the Symphony's repertoire.

With cellist extraordinaire Harrell in the neighborhood to personify the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, Perick prevailed upon the virtuoso to anchor Dvorak's Rondo for Cello and Orchestra, another welcome addition to the CSO playbook. Good warm-up strategy. Between the repetitions of the main tune and the sweet little cadenza at the very end, there were some dicey patches in the middle from the soloist.

Harrell was altogether brilliant as the Don -- comical tilting against the sheep, tragical in his lonely vigil, and chivalric parleying with Dulcinea. Some of the Symphony's best work ever came in evoking the stormy "ride through the air," and guest violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama was a staunch sidekick playing the Sancho Panza tidbits. Noble eloquence permeated Harrell's heartfelt valedictory.

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