My Memories of “Joseph…” [an original cast member reflects on Rice/Webber/Waring’s amazing technicolor musical]

My high school Drama coach and freshman English teacher Michael Garcia often shared his stories of making ends meet as a struggling young actor.

When my 9yo daughter (a budding drama queen) recently started rehearsals for a local Stage Right professional production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and when I found out that one of my own students will be singing the “Calypso Benjamin” song, I asked “Mr. G.” to refresh my memory of his Joseph days.

He kindly sent me this reply, and gave me permission to share it on my blog.

My Memories of “Joseph . . . “

By Michael Garcia

Once upon a time, in 1978, I was a sophomore in college at Catholic University, pursuing my BFA-Drama. I was always very busy there, as I was one of the few non-Caucasian, non-African American students. If there was an ‘exotic’ male character to be played, I was in the mix at callbacks.

I enjoyed musicals the most, as I got real joy out of singing and dancing on stage. Luckily, our Spring musical had a spot for just such an ‘exotic’ singer/dancer as myself. I was lucky enough sing the “Benjamin Calypso” in our ‘little show.’

Prof. James D. Waring, an imposing presence, had recently returned from the Dublin Theatre Festival, where he had seen a staged version of a cantata written by those young upstarts, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, called “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” If performed as originally written , it was about 45 minutes of a musical genre-romp through Exodus. Dr. Waring saw potential in this performance, to which a few songs and lyrics had been added to the original.

He secured the rights to the production, and announced that we would stage “Joseph . . . “ as a full-fledged production, in two acts. Lots of guys would be needed . . . and to accommodate the many female students who were studying Drama, he added a female chorus.

The accompaniment was very pedestrian . . . basically the piano score fleshed out on paper, with a bit of electric guitar added in. Our young, just-graduated musical director Kevin McCarthy, took on the challenge of re-scoring the accompaniment in order to better portray the rock feel of the overall score, and yet still take advantage of the pastiche-styles of the different solos.

And so, with a simple, raked, rolling platform, rock band on stage right, and chorus on an elevated platform on stage left, “Joseph . . . “ opened in April 1978. Having astutely marketed to churches and parochial elementary and high schools, “Joseph “’s 3-week run was quickly sold out. The enthusiasm of a college-age cast playing very close to their age, dancing around in colorful costumes to a soft rock-infused score was great. Added to the end of the show was a rousing, 15-minute recap of the solo numbers (this helped us add minutes to the show, which was too long to perform in one act, but a bit short for two acts). The ‘epilogue’ was like a concert, what with the audience clapping along, often standing and even singing along and laughing at our replayed antics. Pharoah as Elvis indeed! The second time was just as fun.

The show was received enthusiastically; The Washington Post gave us a glowing review, as did The Evening Star and other papers. The Catholic Standard also praised the show. So numerous were the inquiries to the box office, that Dr. Waring arranged a second 3-wekk run—unheard of at Catholic U. for at least 15 years—this time at Olney Theatre, during September 1978.

That run was so successful, it was followed by a 3rd run in April 1979 at Olney . . .and another in September 1979 in Olney.

In February 1980, local producer Susan Rose decided she would like to see if the show could go ‘further’ . . .perhaps New York. She arranged for Dr. Waring to direct the show for a six-weekrun at Ford’s Theatre downtown. While still an active theatre, Ford’s did not have as steady a performance schedule then as it does now. There was room to extend the show if it could recapture success.

Recapture success it did—we were extend four times, eventually running for six months and closing in October 1980. Many of the cast from Catholic continued with the show. Some had graduated, so other journeyman actors also took parts in the show. Those of us from CU earned our Equity cards on the show, and were now professional actors. We learned how to hit the pavement during the day, doing voiceovers, photo shoots, etc., and to be back at Ford’s by our 7 pm call.

All in all, we performed that show almost 250 times. I loved everyone. When I first met Valerie’s (my wife) mom, I actually had laryngitis and was unable to perform my solo that night. To this day, I wonder what her thoughts were of this young man, dancing around the stage, mute!

I am still in touch with many of the cast, as we grew up during the three years of the show’s development. Only two of us—Joseph, and the lead chorus woman—‘graduated’ to the off-Broadway and Broadway productions when the show finally went to New York in 1981. But we all carry such dear memories of the hope in our young careers, the sheer joy of the audiences faces receiving a Biblical story with such enthusiasm and love; and of course the ending of each show—such a high note to end on, a celebration every evening.

I wish you much success in your endeavors, and may you find the camaraderie in your cast that I have in my castmates over the years.

Best,

Mr. G.