Jennifer Paz as the Narrator in Ordway’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. (Photo by Peter B. Myers)
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (December 21, 2010) – Jennifer Paz returns to the Twin Cities to play a familiar role with the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s story of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” The show runs through January 2, 2011.
This is the fourth production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for Paz this year. Based in Seattle where she was raised, Paz said the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle is a sister theater to the Ordway, in that many productions that start there will come here next, and vice-versa. She started in Joseph in Seattle and followed the show to St. Paul.
She also performed with a different Joseph production at North Shore and Sacramento Music Circus and a separate production in Boston.
“It’s been a Joseph year for me,” said Paz.
Performing as Narrator, Paz said the style differs from the dramatic role of the other characters. She enjoys adapting to the Andrew Lloyd Webber presentation style character, describing what is going on in the performance through song.
Her role is of commentary, participant, and observer. She is a bridge between the audience, the “absurdity” of the 12 brothers, and then the children’s choir.
“I try to play it straight,” said Paz.
Once accustomed to the comfort of hiding in a character, she said telling the story as Narrator is a nice challenge and a refreshing change from the dramatic roles. The hard work was in the beginning, reading the script and understanding how to relate her singing and stage presence to the high points of adult humor, the drama of the story and then interacting with the children.
“I sort of had to look at it and make sense of it,” she added.
Paz said that Joseph is the perfect production to utilize a diverse cast, and said it should be diverse given that the story takes place in the Biblical Middle East. She was pleased to see that the Children’s chorus especially had so much talented diversity.
Other Asian American performers include two Korean Americans.
Theater Mu veteran actor Brian Kim is Zebulun, one of the 12 brothers.
Kari Lee Cartwright, an actress from Seattle now based in Los Angeles, has worked in Ordway productions in the past. She is an ensemble actor in Joseph as a singer and dancer.
Paz said James A. Rocco, director and choreographer, made the show work for young and old with the bright and colorful children’s storybooks style scenery. There were several hundred local children that tried out for the children’s chorus in Joseph, and only 40 were selected in the end.
The kids proved themselves in keeping up with a highly energetic production with as much movement as singing.
The starring role of “Joseph” is performed by Anthony Fedorov, who gained fame as a finalist on the popular television show, American Idol. Coming from a traditional stage audition background, Paz said she appreciated what Fedorov had to endure as an Idol contestant.
Performers of regional theater and Broadway get critiqued by their piers and directors in an audition. She said Fedorov was on the national stage and getting voted on each by week after learning and performing a song with little preparation.
She also appreciated the work of co-stars T. Mychael Rambo who she called a natural performer who emerged from a varied background of hard work and training that enables him to perform well and rise to any challenge.
The show concludes with a breathtakingly bright and musical “Joseph Megamix,” where the actors show their faces, dressed in white, signing the parts of the show that you would recognize them from. But it’s all up tempo with the feel of a pop music concert.
“It is so accessible to everyone,” she added. “It is a testament to Rocco for directing it that way. He gave me the freedom to relate to everyone and make it accessible to the audience.”
Performing the Schonberg songs as the lead in Miss Saigon in various productions over several years, Paz said the experience prepared her for the Webber and Rice productions.
“The Miss Saigon score prepared me for this responsibility,” said Paz.
She could feel the influences of Webber and Rice in the Schonberg scores, and said he himself was inspired to become a musical performance writer from watching Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph in the original 1960s productions. Paz will also star as Mary Magdalene in a Seattle production of Jesus Christ Super Star next year.
“For me personally, that kind of contemporary musical theater is what I enjoy and those divisions of the pop music on the radio and the stuff on stage are very similar with Rent and Awakening with much more popular music.”
After Joseph Paz returns to Seattle to being work at Fifth Avenue Theater once again with Guys and Dolls, and she will make her way back to the Ordway later this year with that production as well.
Paz said these productions come in part from having worked for so long and with so many directors that remember her for roles that come up in new or repeat productions.
She plans to continue performing with regional theater and touring with productions. She has learned to appreciate working while being on the road and not to resent the time away. She also enjoys being based in one place for a while and getting the occasional film or television role.
“I am not wanting to be somewhere else while I am here,” she said. “I am grateful to be here and I will be grateful and happy to be there when I am done.”
When Paz is not working she is studying. When she is on the road she trains on the job, literally, with a voice teacher in the cities where the production stops.
“We are all works in progress and when I am not on stage I am in class, reading, singing and studying,” she said. “I am never happy or content with my performance and I always have something to work on.”
Paz was last in town to star in the 1st National Broadway tour of Miss Saigon at the Orpheum Theatre. She also performed in Les Misérables with the 10th Anniversary cast on Broadway; with the production of The Last Five Years in 2009, and a reprise with the David Henry Hwang’s adapted Flower Drum Song on a pre-Broadway production in New York.
Other credits include Village Theatre: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Belle), The King and I (Tuptim), The Who’s Tommy (Sally Simpson), Evita (Eva Peron) and Next to Normal (directed by Brian Yorkey); 5th Avenue Theatre: Buddy Holly (Maria Elena Holly), and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Narrator).
Paz has also acted in film and television including “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Touched by An Angel,” “ABC: A Tribute to Adler, Bock, Coleman.”
For those unfamiliar with the story of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, it begins with Paz as Narrator setting the opening scene about Jacob and his wives and twelve sons. He recognizes Joseph for his special talents and gives him a special coat of all the known colors to symbolize his bright future.
The jealous brothers who sell him into slavery and concoct a tale for their father that Joseph has met an untimely demise and is now in heaven.
Joseph is brought to Egypt where he becomes a trusted slave of the rich Potiphar. His philandering wife, however, has other ideas for Joseph, and Potiphar assumes the worst although not true, and send Joseph to prison.
Joseph is in a cell with two other inmates that tell similar tales of unfortunate demise. Joseph can see their future and realizing his skill for dream interpretation, the Pharaoh brings him to his court to decode his own troubling dreams. When Joseph offers accurate news the Pharaoh puts him in a position of high authority second only to the Pharoh himself.
Back in Canaan, Joseph’s family is starving and the brothers journey to Egypt to beg. The brothers do not recognize Joseph and ask for pity. Joseph feeds them and then accuses them of stealing a precious cup he placed in their bag so he can send them to prison.
Joseph is humbled by the brothers selflessness in defending the younger sibling and reveals his own identity. He and his father are again reunited.
For information on tickets for the show call 651-224-4222 and visit www.ordway.org.