'Joseph,' Shakespeare openings a colorful start to arts season

sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 20, 2013 

If two theaters open shows on the same weekend, it must be the start of the arts season.

The Springer Opera House opened "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" on Thursday.

BF Productions will present "Shakespeare on the River: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'" in the Chattahoochee Promenade Amphitheater at the end of Front Avenue.


Springer producing artistic director and director of "Joseph," Paul Pierce, says this play is special to him.

"It's about broken families made whole," Pierce said. "Everyone can connect with it. I love it.

"It really is the first rock opera, even though it was published after 'Jesus Christ Superstar.'"

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and based on a story from the Bible, it was a conceptual piece written for an English boys school. After the success of "Jesus Christ Superstar," it was reworked into a full musical.

"There are all sorts of genres of music," Pierce said. "It's all about fun and all different styles of music from calypso, French cafe music and country-western."

All kinds of music never performed in Egypt, joked Scooter MacMillan, the Springer's marketing director.

The story is about Joseph, a favored son whose jealous brothers throw him into a pit and later sell him into slavery. They douse his multi-colored coat with goat's blood and lie to their father, who is convinced he was killed by an animal. Later, Joseph becomes a trusted adviser to the pharaoh. After a famine hits, the brothers go to Egypt, asking for grain. They don't recognize their brother, who forgives them. Joseph is later reunited with his father.

There's a 37-voice children's choir for this show.

The two leads, Tim Abou-Nasr, who plays Joseph, and Sims Lamason, who plays the Narrator, have done this show before in those roles.

Lamason, who didn't know the Springer provided guest housing on the third floor of the theater, loves it. So does Abou-Nasr.

"I'm fulfilling my childhood dream of living in a theater," he said with a big grin.

Pierce and the Springer's production team had auditioned Lamason in the past but didn't have the right show for her.

Abou-Nasr comes to Columbus through connections with the Omaha (Neb.) Playhouse.

The late Charles Jones, who was the first Springer artistic director, left Columbus for the Omaha Playhouse, where he stayed until he retired. Former Springer technical director Jim Othuse still creates sets for the Omaha Playhouse. Beau Bisson and Eric Bricking, who used to book Springer Theatricals plays around the country, now work in Omaha.

And more recently, Billy McGuigan, who created and starred in the Beatles show last season, lives in Omaha.

"There are a lot of connections," Abou-Nasr said.

The music is very important.

"When you hear 12 male voices sing in unison, it's really powerful," said Jim Pharr, who is playing one of the brothers, Reuben.

Even the kids in the choir often have their cellphones out, recording the songs, he said.

"It's easy to brag on this cast," Pierce said. "Everybody brings something unique to the show. We're glad to have Sims in the show. The woman (who plays the Narrator) has to be a powerful performer with the 12 brothers."

While you don't see them on stage, Pierce said three other people are instrumental in getting this show together. Debbie Anderson is the choral director, getting the most out of the voices on stage, following Steve Zumbrun's musical direction.

Michele Rogers Cook's choreography is tailored for each actor.

Abou-Nasr was thrilled to find out Zumbrum was the musical director. He had worked with him twice before and said he was "overjoyed" to work with him again.

Shakespeare on the River

When Ken Johnston first saw the amphitheater on the Columbus side of the Chattahoochee River, he knew he wanted to do a show there.

The executive director of the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus is a veteran actor, who has played Oberon in William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" twice before.

It's one of Shakespeare's most accessible plays and director Tamara Curry is doing her best to make it even more accessible by making it free and a fundraiser for Damascus Way, a emergency shelter for women and their children.

All patrons need to do is bring canned goods or gently used clothing and shoes.

"I love this location," Curry said. "I wanted to do something to get community support."

The amphitheater is "gorgeous," Johnston said, and it has a direct connection to the Naval Museum because it's very near the Confederate Naval Shipyard (where the Columbus Convention & Trade Center now sits) where the CSS Jackson was built.

The Jackson is the centerpiece for the Naval Museum.

Because of that, he is loaning the production a bunch of Civil War-era naval uniforms for the men. Besides, the museum is the co-producer of the show, he said.

Curry is directing and producing a show for the first time in Columbus. She has plenty of experience elsewhere, mostly Washington and Los Angeles. She's also acting in this show, playing Hermia.

While Johnston has had Shakespearean experience, his leading lady, V.J. Roberts, who is playing Titania the fairy queen, does not. It's her first Shakespeare play.

When Roberts was a theater student at the University of Georgia, she said she was cast as Titania, but chose to do another role in a different play.

"It's a lot more difficult (doing Shakespeare), especially when it's not your thing," Roberts said. "But I'm really into it now. I lock myself into a room to learn the lines."

Her daughter, Jessica, is playing a fairy. The rest of the cast said to watch her because she's going to steal the show.

Another scene-stealer is 15-year-old Austin Cates, a Hardaway High School sophomore, who is playing Puck.

When Curry was casting the show, she asked Springer Opera House's Theater Academy director Ron Anderson if she could scout out young actors. Always eager to help his students do as much acting as possible, he said she could.

Initially searching for Puck, she found that the Academy students were well-trained and disciplined and decided to use as many as she could in her show.

"She (Curry) pulled me out of class," Cates said. After he was cast, he said he read the play and even went online to make sure he got the lines, word by word.

Curry recommends that patrons wear sunglasses because in the evening, the sun will be setting.

Related stories:

McClure Theatre now scheduled to open in November

Oberlander to open CSU faculty concert

Broadway star returns home to Columbus, will perform for the first time in more than 30 years

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