ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
You would hardly expect run-of-the-mill preparation for a musical with the outlandish title, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Judy Harder, director of drama at Tabor College, says it’s been anything but run-of-the-mill as she and her cast and crew prepare to present the lively musical during Tabor’s homecoming week, Oct. 16-19.
“I always say each (production) is the biggest challenge, but I think this really is,” said Harder.
The musical, written by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is a lively portrayal of the biblical Joseph story.
But it’s hardly a serious epic.
“It’s just pure fun,” Harder said. “It does take the biblical story as a story line, but it doesn’t do too much interpretation. The writer found a story to be entertaining with.
“The only thing that’s compatible with the faith story is that it’s celebrative, it’s creative.”
Harder is joined by three other persons to pull together a show that has required unprecedented creativity, daring and investment.
Harder and Brad Vogel, associate professor of choral music, are directing the cast and crew, Talashia Yoder, a Tabor student, is choreographing the musical and Arlo Kasper, retired drama director at Bethel College, has designed the set.
And, as pleased as she is with the quality of her 20-member cast, Harder is even more enthused about the technical component of the production.
Most noticeable is the location of the stage. Tabor is foregoing the Hillsboro High School auditorium and instead has developed an unusual stage in an unusual spot in Tabor’s Chapel-Auditorium-the far north end.
She said Chris Glanzer, a former student and Tabor’s computer systems administrator, lobbied for the north end already in his student days-but Harder never felt it was conducive to the material.
“When this show came up, his eyes got big and he said that would be one production we could do at the north end of this room,” Harder said.
“Because of his ‘tech’ mentality-and he knows ‘Joseph’-he got a light in his eyes, and I thought, ‘That’s interesting.'”
Harder is leaning on Glanzer’s technical knowledge at various levels, including voice amplification. For the first time in Harder’s tenure, about three-fourths of the cast will be wired for sound.
“It’s been fun to have confidence in Chris and the technical crew,” Harder said.
But the expression of creativity the audience will notice first is the huge makeshift stage designed by Kasper. It’s combination of size, slants, multi-level platforms and rounded front is unprecedented.
“We were really concerned that it would be so over-the-top or aggressive in here, and we asked what could soften it,” Harder said. “My first idea was anything that’s curved will soften the blow, and anything that’s just a little slanted.
“Then, of course, we have to have levels. That provides a lot of different scenic possibilities.
“The circle (front) for me has symbolic meaning,” Harder added. “The whole Joseph story is circular in the sense of community and story-telling-like sitting around in a circle. I like that a lot.”
The construction of the stage has been doubly challenging because Kasper has been helping to produce a documentary in Germany and Greece the past few weeks and won’t be in back in Kansas until Sunday.
Handling the choreography is Talashia Yoder, a drama major at Tabor.
“Since we had to do some unusual things in our settings with choreography, it’s been good to have a student among us to do that,” Harder said.
“For instance, how do you dance all the numbers on such a little stage? It takes a detailed blocking of where every person has to be at all times so it doesn’t look like a crowd.
“But she did it. You put two people down here or down there or over there, and suddenly it doesn’t look crowded,” Harder said.
A crew of some 20 local women have been recruited to work on costumes, including Joseph’s “coat of many colors.”
Of course, the music and story will be the centerpiece.
The production follows the biblical story of Joseph from the time his father, Jacob, gives him his special coat-much to the consternation of his jealous brothers-to the time the family is reunited in Egypt.
Beyond that, patrons can expect the unexpected.
“The story is there, but every scene is done in a different musical style,” Harder said. “For instance, Pharoah is ‘Elvis,’ Potiphar is the ‘Twenties’ and his harem are flappers, and the scene where Jacob is told that his son is killed is done ‘Hee-Haw’ western style.
“It has a variety-show style, and I think that softens (the stage) a little, too,” she added.
Harder said patrons should come ready to enjoy the light-hearted atmosphere, and shouldn’t expect a serious application of the Bible.
She said in this context, a light-hearted approach is appropriate.
“If that was our only diet of the Bible, I’d say we don’t have any business doing it,” Harder said. “But if 90 percent of the way we look at the Bible is more mature, then to have a little celebrative story-telling style is all right.
“It’s sort of like family,” she added. “Sometimes you can take something really serious within a family and just play with it, and not be disrespectful of it.”