Critical Review

Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Critical Review student reviewer program gives Metro-area high school students the opportunity to attend and review touring Broadway productions, Spotlight Education events, workshops to develop writing skills and other opportunities depending on availability. Critical Review teaches communication skills and enhances critical thinking and creative response. As part of Critical Review, students receive study guides and press kits before the show, learn from experts including local theatre critics, playwrights and actors who teach workshops in lighting design to choreography, and in some cases, have expanded access to the Broadway touring cast and crew.

Students post their reviews and interact online through our Critical Review Clubhouse (online access is required for participation). Students are accepted through an application process.

This program is free of cost to participants thanks to the generous underwriting of Fred and Ann Moore.

Applications are Open for the 2016-2017 Critical Review season! Applications will be accepted now through September 23rd. Please see application for more details.

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Visit the Critical Review Clubhouse to read great past reviews of our shows!

CRITICAL REVIEW CLUBHOUSE

Goals

  • To develop and enhance critical thinking, self-expression and analytical writing skills
  • To provide a unique and engaging forum for students learning outside of the classroom
  • To provide high school students the opportunity to develop an appreciation for live theatre

Elements of the Program

  • Participants see up to eight live theatre performances, often touring Broadway productions, at the Orpheum, State, Pantages or New Century Theatres and write reviews
  • Opportunity to review press materials provided to the professional media
  • Workshops with professionals in the theatre and journalism fields
  • Tour of one of the Trust’s Historic theatres
  • Student reviews posted on the Hennepin Theatre Trust website and SpotLight’s Critical Review reviewer site

What participants are saying:

“I LOVE Critical Review so much! Going to see all of those plays was so amazing. I really appreciate what the program has done for me.”
-Diamond Billinger, Critical Review student

Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best performances I have seen this year, tied with Wicked and Spring Awakening. There is no one better than Chaim Topol to tell the classic story of family hardship and change.”
-Sara Sommers,  Critical Review student

“I have loved Rent ever since I saw the movie. Being able to see the stage version with two of the original cast members was beyond amazing. It was so much fun and definitely an experience I’ll always remember.”
-Alicia Battle, Critical Review student

Read all Critical Review student reviews at the Critical Review Clubhouse!

Critical Review Clubhouse

Blissfully Ignorant by Larissa Milles 

They say ignorance is bliss. For me, ignorance was a good thing after seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Even though it’s one of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more well known pieces, I’d never before seen the show or knew much about it. As I left the theater, I heard murmurs of discussion, namely one person who stated that their favorite show had just been “ruined”. Now Joseph wasn’t the best show I’d ever seen, but it certainly wasn’t the worst.This production was like the youngest child of a family, going to the extremes to get attention and be noticed. The cast and crew managed to pull off an entertaining, albeit, unrefined production.

With the word technicolor in the title, I was expecting lots of color to be used in the lighting. I was not, however, expecting to be blinded in many of the numbers. One of these instances was at the end of “Jacob & Sons”/”Joseph’s Coat” when the entire house was illuminated by lights on the stage. I wasn’t able to enjoy the vibrant colors of the lighting, because of the intensity of the lights. Lighting designer Howell Binkley had a little too much fun. I wasn’t expecting as much dancing as I saw. Director/Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, a Tony Award winner and choreographer of current smash hit Hamilton, challenged his cast with intricate choreography. I just wish they could have finessed it a tiny bit more. There were a few times when the synchronicity was off, but the choreography still was one of my favorite aspects from the production. I liked the simplistic set- aside from the strange animals that looked like they were cut out of cardboard. Designer Beowulf Boritt used canvas like draping for curtains, a touch I liked, as it wasn’t distracting from the story being told.

The performances were entertaining, but the supporting actors outshone the main actors. Laura Helm (Narrator) and JC McCann (Joseph) were tasked to lead the production. Helm’s singing voice was lovely, but sounded as though she was auditioning for American Idol. Some of the songs call for a more pop style voice, but I much prefer traditional Broadway sounding voices.  McCann was lacking energy and didn’t seem to be giving his best performance, and was overpowered by the ensemble in many of the group numbers. My personal favorite song (and the audience’s), was “Those Canaan Days”. It can be difficult for shows like Joseph, sung-through comedies, to give its actors opportunities to showcase their acting ability. Much of the show is based on song and dance, so I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of Peter Surace (Simeon) in those “Old Canaan Days”. His comedic timing was impeccable and the audience couldn’t stop laughing.

The show ended with the entire company performing “Joseph Megamix”, an extended medley of songs from the show. It was energetic, fun, and had me dancing in my seat. If you’re someone who ardently adores Joseph and the amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat this production probably isn’t for you, but if you’re like me and haven’t ever been exposed to Joseph, go, go, go!


Vegas Takes On Genesis by Mary Katherine Fiala

A clash of electric guitar, a flash of strobes, the story faded into darkness. There are a few instances in which cocktail dresses are not preferred over other forms of fabric. Funerals for instance, or job interviews, or perhaps a performance of a biblical-original story. Hey, I am all for cocktail dresses, give me a short hemline and a martini and I’m your girl, but maybe not during Joseph. Sure, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to theater. The best shows in my opinion are those utilizing minimal set, simple costumes, and emphasis  on the story and the story alone. It’s just my view that the narrator in Joseph shouldn’t be wearing clubwear but for some reason they didn’t call me up for costuming tips. But maybe that comes from a desperate childhood obsession with Maria Friedman’s portrayal of the narrator in the 1999 production. I like a girl with short hair and a long…..blazer.

Joseph the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Orpheum in Minneapolis is Broadway for Christians, and for those of you listening on the audiobook, that’s with a capital C. The production was lavish,but a bit odd. It made me feel like Tom Cruise had some part on the production team. Gotta love an ending number with everyone in white and little Benjamin is revealed to have washboard abs. Lavish is not necessarily a bad thing however, the production was impressive in its use of projection, and the cast gave it their all to the highest extent. The performance that was most dazzling was Peter Surace (Simeon). He led the brothers so that they became the most energizing, brightest ensemble in the show. The house was successfully brought all the way to the flo by the iconic number, Those Canaan Days.

This production added in a lot in an attempt to stretch out this very short show, adding in an odd modern scene at the beginning that did not do what it meant to. I’m sure it was trying to make those crazy millennials put away those damn phones and look at the stage for once, but it simply took away from the beauty and genius that is possibly the best opening number in the history of the musical theater ever. That’s right Kiss Me Kate, stand back.

Overall the show did what was brilliantly created to do by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, it told a story well. Joseph is in my mind, a near-perfect show, which is difficult to ruin, no matter how many strobe lights and backflips you stuff in it. Joseph can stand the test of time, taste and tact.


Joseph and the (Not So) Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Anna Boatman

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was first produced in 1970 and features the music of famed composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The musical is based on the story of “Joseph and the coat of many colors” from the first book of the bible Genesis.

Despite being overwhelmingly stuffed from start to finish with elaborate digital effects, bright colored lights, whimsical costumes and acrobatic dance numbers, the show felt like it was lacking something. Choreographer and director Andy Blankenbuehler seems to rely on tricks, and the occasional blinding with bright multicolored lights, to engage an audience rather than putting on a fully polished show. With a higher budget and a few more weeks of rehearsal this show might have held up better rather than being a cheesy interpretation of an old show.

Laura Helm (Narrator) seemed to be working too hard charm the audience sometimes at the expense of singing clearly. Though at least she was usually articulate enough to be understood, the same of which cannot be said for the ensemble, who were often unintelligible. Joe Ventricelli (Pharaoh) performed his Elvis inspired number with such a heavy faked accent that it was impossible to understand what he was saying, and still lacked the energy required to make the number fully entertaining. Jc McCann (Joseph) was one of the shows small redemptions. His performance of “Close Every Door” sung clearly and actually reached the emotion that the moment deserved. McCann plays Joseph as a man who walks the line between arrogance and genuine greatness, giving a layer of depth to the character that was unexpected.

The sets for Joseph are mostly simplistic and understated though they tried to distract from this fact by creating digital projection to define setting. In some cases, like spiraling maps to mark where Joseph has traveled, the digital projection adds to the entirety of the show. But most of the time cartoonish digital projections were used to replace sets rather than enhance them.

Joseph attempts to differentiate itself from earlier productions by replacing 70s inspired dancing and costumes with white outfits right off the album cover from a 90s boy band and dancing inspired by acrobatics and modern day Broadway but the show doesn’t seem to commit to the idea only bringing it in occasionally.

At the end of “Those Canaan Days”, a number filled with gimmicky moments and mumbled singing, Simeon (Peter Surace) begged the audience for applause and the show couldn’t continue until we clapped loud enough. Like Simeon, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is begging for applause through gaudy effects and fourth-wall breaking corny charm.

The family audience that this show has been marketed towards can find several worthwhile things in this show. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music covers a huge spread of genres, and more than that  the show shares a valuable story of a young man who followed his dreams and found value despite hardship. Joseph has become a staple for amateur and high school theaters across the country and perhaps that is where it should stay.


No, No, No Joseph! by Jolie Olson 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a throwback to one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first works. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and was impressed by the innovative approach on the show, but it got kind of strange. Visually, Joseph was fun to look at…until I noticed just how many colors were on stage. It was overwhelming. For a majority of the show I found myself asking “What’s happening? This isn’t in the Donny version…” It could be compared to a big plate of pasta– you have your noodles, the sauce, some cheese, and spices, but there were a few ingredients added to the mix that made it taste funky.

Every plate of pasta starts with the noodles and builds up. Joseph (JC McCann) was reminiscent of a noodle that hasn’t been cooked all the way. He was half there, but half stiff and expressionless. He had strong vocals in “Close Every Door”, but it was brought down by a cringe worthy riff at the end of “Go, Go, Go Joseph”- more like no, no, no Joseph. The Narrator (Laura Helm) had a powerful voice and was good at keeping the audience’s attention, but her sound was a little too nasally for my liking. The brothers basically made the show. Not only were they nice to look at, but you could easily distinguish one from the other. They had personality or seasoning, if you will. Reuben (Jacob Sharf) had a sassy, controlling persona, when Simeon (Peter Surace) had a chill, laid back vibe. All of their vocals meshed perfectly and made my arms tingle with every chord.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat literally has color in the title, so one would expect to see lots tones. The production team did not disappoint- there were so many shades, I couldn’t keep track. Although I appreciate a good pigmented stage, I found it hard to see certain people, as there were colored lights, colored costumes, and colored projections. It was fun to watch, but I felt overwhelmed as the songs went by like a red sauce with too many tomatoes.

I have been a fan of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat since my grandma gave me the Donny Osmond film adaptation for my 3rd birthday. I watched that movie religiously (no pun intended) for years. I knew it like the back of my hand. With that being said, what the actual heck was this production? There were certain points in the show, like “Jacob and Sons” and “Those Canaan Days” that I absolutely loved. Then there were moments like the entire “Joseph Megamix” that I was so embarrassed by the entire concept, my face turned bright red. This whole production was a bizarre mix of “Oh that was so great” and “Why are they doing that, someone needs to tell them to stop.” If you have an uneven proportion of noodles to sauce, your pasta will either drown, or dry up, which was exactly the case for this production.


The Narrator and the Boring, Dull Chorus by George Mulder

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has held a special place in the hearts of many people throughout the last few decades. The 2016 National Tour exhibited that Joseph is a dying musical. It plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis until April 3rd. Though an inexperienced theatre-goer may enjoy it (your 7 year-old daughter), you probably won’t. This beloved tale, premiering in 1968, captured the hearts of the audiences in America with its catchy tunes and storyline from the bible.

The most famous star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was Donny Osmund in the role of Joseph. He also played Joseph in the 1999 movie version of the show. His role was so iconic that when people come to see the show, they expect it to be at that level. Well it is no surprise that most of the audience was disappointed when Joseph came out and didn’t look or sound like Donny Osmund.

JC McCann in the role of Joseph in this National Tour seemed to lack the personality and warmth that we all expect the character to have. His voice was there, but didn’t have the special epiphany that we all expect during the song “Close Every Door.”

It was not only Joseph, but the entire ensemble that seemed to lack the feeling that this show needs for it to be special at all. Without an extremely enthusiastic cast, this musical is just a middle school show with mediocre props and simple costumes. Joseph’s “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” didn’t amaze anyone. The sets basically included a curtain with some lighting effects. The lighting was pretty extravagant, but the lack of set pieces seemed lazy in the age of modern theatre.

The best shining light on stage was Laura Helm in the role of the narrator. She has a unique, Broadway-style voice that carried this less-than-two-hour (but seemed like an eternity) show along. Her style and belting range gave energy to the songs that were missing a kicker. Though she doesn’t have the Broadway experience that a lot of touring actors have, she is making her way up the entertainment industry as a young actress.

To be honest, there are a lot of older people who enjoy this show. They experienced it as it came out on stage about 50 years ago, they witnessed the making of the movie, and it has been set in their hearts as something they will always love to see. As we are deeper into the 21st century, most people would be disappointed in the rendition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Its attempt at a modern woman (Narrator) telling the ancient story of Joseph and his dreams ultimately fails. People have a certain expectation for this particular show. This production has tried to modernize it, but they did not make bold enough choices. It is obviously comparable to the movie and just doesn’t fit the bill. Joseph just isn’t the same without Donny Osmund.

Contact Us

For more information about Spotlight’s Critical Review Program please contact:

Ari Koehnen, Education Coordinator
Ari.Koehnen@HennepinTheatreTrust.org
612.455.9532

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