Logan • The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre season includes two favorite musicals, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Fiddler on the Roof."
While both productions, which take place on the Ellen Eccles Theater stage, are familiar, the show directors, actors, set and costume designers have added a few twists to make them unique to Utah.
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" • Joseph's name may be in the musical's title, but in UFOMT's humorous retelling of the biblical story of Joseph, there is no one person who steals the show.
Jonathan Hoover, as Joseph, was strong and performed well. But this high-energy, playful production seems more about everybody than about any one person. The cast had good chemistry and worked well together on opening night. Even minor characters, like the baker, made the most of their few moments in the spotlight.
"Joseph" is one of the most-often performed musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber. So it's natural for director Valerie Rachelle to add a few twists to make the UFOMT production her own. She has given the show a modern, even urban, feel with a scaffolding set and the blaring electric lights lining the sides of the stage. Costumes are mixed between traditional biblical and modern including dreadlock-wearing, skateboard-wielding Ishmaelites.
Most of the changes seem different for the sake of being different. But the show itself is silly and campy enough to absorb whatever creativity the director has thrown in.
The ensemble pieces are the highlights of the production. "Go, Go, Go, Joseph" was the standout, but the other production numbers were good, too, like the extended dance sequence in "One More Angel in Heaven."
The scaffolding set was versatile and allowed the director some creativity, bringing the staging up on multiple levels throughout the production. The use of lights and color added to the mood and tone.
The show has childlike aspects, from the opening scene on a playground where a group of children are teasing one of their peers to the golden tricycle that Joseph rides at the end. Unfortunately, the only thing that didn't really work was that "chariot of gold" tricycle. The play only has a couple of serious moments, and the final reunion between Joseph and his father is one of the very few places where silliness actually seemed out of place.
There also were some minor issues with the mix between electric and acoustic instruments, as well as with the balance between the orchestra and the singers. But the production is strong enough to overcome a few technical opening-night glitches.
"Fiddler on the Roof" • Take this favorite Utah play and add a well-known Utah actor Michael Ballam in the role of Tevye and audiences get one solid production. UFOMT's acting, vocal performances and orchestra all worked together for a strong opening performance.
The vocal quality of the cast is strong and the ensemble numbers had the rich sound of a good opera chorus. It's a rare treat to hear "To Life" and other numbers sound that great.
The production also has a couple of nice touches. Ballam's real-life daughters Vanessa Ballam and Olivia Ballam Blair play Tevye's daughters onstage. Vanessa Ballam, in particular, stands out in her portrayal of Tzeitel. Also, the set's crooked houses evoked the Marc Chagall painting "The Fiddler," from which "Fiddler on the Roof" gleaned its name.
One unusual aspect is Ballam's slightly unconventional portrayal of Tevye. Before launching this production of "Fiddler," Ballam and director Margaret Harrer sought "Fiddler" lyricist Sheldon Harnick's input on Tevye's characterization. According to Ballam, Harnick suggested that Ballam skip the Yiddish accent, grow his own beard and go light on the makeup so as to be recognizable because Tevye is "everyman."
And that's how Ballam played the lead character. Rather than being the gruff-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside Russian Jew, this Tevye almost seemed as if he might have had Utah roots. Ballam didn't do much to disguise himself, not just in makeup and accent, but to some degree, in characterization, as well.
That being said, he played the character with just enough bark and bite to be Tevye in the end.
While the production quality was good overall, it didn't quite reach its potential the emotional highs and low that are possible for this show just weren't there. Perhaps it's because Ballam didn't embrace the endearing gruffness of the character.
In the end, however, this production of "Fiddler" is still enjoyable and worth seeing.
Reviews: 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' and 'Fiddler on the Roof'
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre offers a high-energy, modern "Joseph" and a more natural Tevye in "Fiddler."
When • Reviewed on July 12 and 13, respectively. The productions run in rotating repertory, Tuesday-Saturday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., through Aug. 10.
Where • Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 S. Main, Logan
Tickets • $12-$76, with discounts for students, groups and series tickets purchase. Call the box office at 800-262-0074 ext 3, or visit arttix.org or utahfestival.org.
Running time • "Joseph" is 1 hour, 40 minutes, with intermission; "Fidder" 2 hours, 50 minutes, with intermission