The spectacular costumes, acrobatic stunts and catchy songs of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat left Curtis Labelle so dazzled as a 10-year-old theatre-goer, that he decided at the age of 26 to mount his own version of the musical in Red Deer.
And the ambitious Labelle doesn’t do anything by halves.
Not only is he directing and producing the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber vehicle, which opens on Thursday at The Matchbox in Red Deer, Labelle has also designed the set, lighting effects and costumes — and plans to conduct the four-piece band.
“This has been my life for the past four months,” he admitted with a spirited chuckle.
As can be expected when tackling such a mammoth challenge — Labelle’s cast numbers 23 actors from the ages of eight and up — not everything has gone smoothly.
“This has been the show plagued by casting troubles,” admitted the director, who had difficulty retaining the 11 male actors needed to portray Joseph’s brothers.
Several dropped out due to family or work commitments over the summer. While a few new actors were brought on board, the brother tally still sits at eight — which doesn’t really bother Labelle, who comes across as an exuberantly positive person.
He credits this reduced fraternal chorus for “singing like 50 men. They work hard, they look great. . . . ” Labelle said he’ll probably put a note in the program explaining that the brother count will not add up to the 11 referred to in the family-friendly musical, based on a Biblical story from the Book of Genesis.
More worrying was the turnover of Josephs.
Clay Hitchcock, who’s playing the part now, is the third actor to take on the lead role originated on Broadway by Donny Osmond.
Labelle said the two previous Josephs had to step down because of other priorities. “Oh well— that’s theatre,” he added, noting that Hitchcock, who was originally cast as a brother, was a natural replacement, since he was already familiar with the blocking and had attended all the rehearsals.
Labelle praised Hitchcock for being a great Joseph. “I feel he knows the role better than anyone else who has been in it before because he’s had the most rehearsals.”
Hitchcock was also a child chorus member in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat the second time Red Deer College theatre students mounted the popular musical in the mid-1990s. Labelle saw the first local production and was left utterly starry-eyed.
“Oh, there were the colours, the lights and the music, which was fun. I was a kid at the time and there were children on stage — and a camel!”
By necessity, this production about Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers had to skip the camel as well as Joseph’s 11 sisters-in-law, due to the constructions of The Matchbox’s comparatively small stage.
But Labelle, who has been involved in 36 previous plays and musicals, including his directing of Central Alberta Theatre’s Anne of Green Gables, promises he has, through ingenious ways, created the same feeling of spectacle in this production as audiences have come to expect of Joseph.
“I’ve got great, great, great people. The show sounds phenomenal, the singing is so good . . . I think this is the best community theatre production I’ve done in Red Deer,” added Labelle, who runs a local voice and piano conservatory and knows something about singing.
While he financed this show out of his own savings and created all of its design, he’s grateful for a slew of friends, including stage manager Stephanie Ridge and various set builders, for helping make his dream of mounting this elaborate musical come true.
One of his many helpers is Silvana Notte, who Labelle describes as “an 80-year-old Italian woman” from British Columbia who is sewing costumes based on his designs.
Notte, whose daughter Sabrina plays a narrator in this production, has a real talent for adding shine and sparkle, said Labelle, with a laugh. “These costumes will have the Italian touch.”