Colorful finale: ‘Dreamcoat’ lights up Ethington stage
Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Lights, an intricate detail and design of Jerusalem, a computer chip control.
You name it, and Grand Canyon University’s iteration of Joseph’s dreamcoat has it.
The production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which debuts Friday and runs for two weekends, will showcase the costume piece in all its glory. (Here’s a slideshow.)
And bringing that integral part of the show to life was no small feat, said College of Arts and Media costume designer Nola Yergen, who designed the production’s costumes. Creating the coat was a labor of love that also celebrated the merging of technology and art – and a successful collaboration with the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.
Throughout the coat-creation process, CSET Engineering Shop Manager John Berkheimer would come in, even on weekends, to assist with the costume’s lighting and wiring. Inside the coat, all the technical elements are controlled by a computer chip, which helps bring the piece to life.
“He’s got a personality, that coat,” Yergen said with a grin. “It’s truly a one-of-a-kind work of art.”
The coat was a work of art that she wanted to make sure was unique to the college’s rendition of the play. Yergen even kept herself from looking at any prior interpretations of the coat, to prevent herself from being influenced while completing her design.
“I woke up one morning and I just knew what I wanted it to look like,” she said.
It is just one of several ways the final play of Ethington’s 2021-2022 theatre season stands out.
The performance also will mark an important milestone for future GCU productions and events. It is the first time that fiberoptic cabling was used to allow an orchestra to perform the show’s music live from the GCU Recording Studio, in the technology building next door.
“In a musical production, the tradition of theatre is always to have a live orchestra,” Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson said. “When you can use live musicians, there’s something way more special about that.”
It’s a concept that Johnson has toyed with for years but wasn’t able to do until recently, when the IT Department was available to install the fiberoptic cabling. From there, cameras were added to better help link the orchestra and composer to the performers on the stage.
Mark Fearey, CAM Associate Director of Choirs and Faculty Music Director, works as the liaison linking the stage performers via screen and the orchestra in person.
Johnson calls it a complete paradigm shift to past GCU productions that have incorporated live music. Previously, the production’s set designer would need to create a space, often elevated and hidden behind the set, for the live orchestra. Often, that meant limiting the size of the orchestra.
It’s a whole different ballgame for Fearey, whose orchestra blends student and professional musicians.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “This is a really cool experience. I think it’s good for them (students) to experience performing in a whole different way, like with the headphones and in a different place.”
The cast members and their interpretations of the work also are impressive.
The musical, with lyrics written by Tim Rice and music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is based on the story of Joseph from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers but still forgives them.
Unlike some other musicals, the show depicts its entire story via song and dance, creating a high-energy, fast-paced experience.
Director and CAM adjunct faculty member Joan Colson was drawn to the show for that very reason.
“The thing that makes it fun is that every song is a different style,” she said, noting that the genres include country western and rock-and-roll and a 1920s song from the French era — unique elements that have helped make it the second most often performed musical in the world.
The fast-paced approach made the experience memorable for the performers.
“This production has been really unique because it’s been really difficult and rewarding at the same time,” said Anna Mettes, who plays one of several wives in the show. “It’s a very high energy show that has taken a lot of energy to put together, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”
Lucas Keller, who plays the role of Joseph, was drawn to audition after working in the box office and seeing the show on the schedule. The English in secondary education major had done theatre in the past but never at the collegiate level.
“‘Joseph’ was a story that I had admired all throughout high school, and I thought it would be fun to just try out,” he said. “I wanted to play Joseph because, I mean, it’s Joseph, but I was so good with being anybody. I just wanted to be a part of another theatre production with a great family, like theatre is.”
With so much love put into every area of this production, it’s the perfect bow on top of a memorable season and its return to Ethington Theatre.
“I think there is something in it that everyone is going to love,” said Kenzie Huether, who plays another wife in the show. “I think all of the songs here are really fun to listen to and really enjoyable to get into.
“It’s not hard to love this show.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” by Tim Rice
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, April 1-10
Where: Ethington Theatre
Tickets: $12 admission. Discounted tickets for senior citizens, military personnel, GCU and GCE employees, GCU alumni, children 12 years old and younger, and GCU students.
Information: 602-639-8979 or [email protected]