Students to perform 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'
By Richard Gaw
The upcoming production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Kennett Middle School on May 3 and 4 celebrates not just an anniversary for its creators, but also for the school at which this production will be performed.
In 1968, Joseph was first presented as a 15-minute “pop cantata” at Colet Court School in London, with music by Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It was the first musical by the team that had ever been performed publicly, and the idea of basing an entire musical on the “coat of many colours” story of Joseph that appears in the Bible represented a huge creative risk for Weber and Rice.
A year later, the musical was published and recorded in an expanded form by Decca Records, and it premiered on Broadway in 1982. Over its 50-year existence, Joseph has become one of the most-produced musicals in the world, and as recently as 2008, the musical had been performed in more than 20,000 schools and amateur theaters, a number that has easily doubled in the last few years.
Twenty years ago, under the direction of Heather Uster, the Kennett Middle School unveiled its first musical production, entitled Castaways. While it served as an opportunity for a group of middle schoolers to dip their toes into the experience of musical theater, that first production has led to an annual tradition that’s inspired – and challenged -- hundreds of students under Uster’s direction.
“We like a challenge, and when students are told that they need to be up to challenge, they meet that challenge,” said Uster, who is working with a cast and crew of nearly 90 students, with the assistance of stage manager Gretchen Coe and other volunteers. “Doing an operetta like Joseph is more challenging for students because there are virtually no non-singing parts, but we’re able to find other roles for them, such as dancing, cheerleading, and acting the part of a children’s choir.”
Managing the directorial duties for a middle school musical requires several skills, such as organization, delegation and keeping on a schedule, but for Uster, there are other intangible requirements that have a lot to do with inspiration.
“It’s about understanding how a middle-school brain works,” she said. “They all want the opportunity to shine, and whether they know it or not, there’s a lot more inside of them than they realize. All we do is attempt to pull out of them things that they don’t even know are there, in order to get them to realize the talent that has been hiding inside of them.”
For Uster, the thrill of directing the school’s musicals for the past 20 years was essentially dormant during rehearsals, which are conducted in a nearly-empty auditorium.
“One of the things that’s difficult in rehearsals is not having an audience, but come performance time, the cast feeds the audience and the audience feeds the cast,” she said. “It’s a very organic moment that rises and rises, and it feeds not only every member of our cast, but me, as well.”
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be performed at the Kennett Middle School gymnasium on May 3 at 7 p.m., and May 4 at 1 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $6 for adults, and $4 for students and seniors, and are available at the door.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.