Brotherly love
Local kids stage lively version of Webber's classic tale of betral, redemption

Austin Hohnke, Chris Warren and Josh MacDonald, from left, perform a country-inspired number during a rehearsal for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on Monday at the Durango Arts Center. The three play Joseph’s jealous brothers who sell him into slavery only to grovel for his help later in life./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Before Evita, before the Phantom, even before Jesus Christ, there was Joseph. And through March 6, audiences will have a chance to relive the Old Testament story of Jacob’s most beloved son as put to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and performed by local schoolchildren.

The Durango Lively Arts Co., in conjunction with Durango Arts Force, will present “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for the next three weekends at the Durango Arts Center.


The local version of the hit Broadway musical, which most recently starred Donny Osmond, features a cast of actors between the ages of 6 and 16.

Play co-director Wendy Ludgewait, of “A Tuna Christmas” fame, said although the play was an ambitious undertaking, it is a perfect fit for kids because of the various musical genres it incorporates, from country and calypso to blues and rock.

“It’s good for kids, they seem to like it because of its different musical styles,” she said.

The play also is unique in that, like most of Webber’s works, all the dialogue is sung.

“It’s like a mini operetta,” said the play’s other co-director Denise Hagemeister, who also helped with choreography.

Hagemeister also heads up the after-school Arts Force performance group, Applause, from which many of the play’s actors were taken. She said “Joseph” offers younger students a shot at bigger roles that often go to older students. The play comes on the heels of Durango High School’s “Experiment With an Air Pump,” which Hagemeister said is primarily performed by upper classmen.

“Consequently, we don’t get the older kids trying out,” said Hagemeister. “It gives the younger kids a chance to take the lead.”

Indeed, the lead role went to Scotty Howard, an eighth-grader at Miller Middle School. Howard, whose lanky, near 6-foot-tall frame betrays his age, actually comes from a dancing background. But he transitions well into his role as the dreamy son of Jacob, who is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.

“He’s really a great kid to work with,” said Ludgewait.

Likewise, Howard’s fellow actors do an impressive job of holding their own despite their young4 age. The role of the narrator, which was divvied up into three parts for this production, is played captivatingly by Leah Nikula, 16; Angelica Pozo-DesPortes, 15; and Jessica Hagemeister, 15 (and daughter of Denise).

Freshman Angelica Pozo-DesPortes,
one of three narrators in the play,
sings to the audience during a
scene./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Another memorable performance is given by 16-year-old Josh MacDonald, who plays the dual role of one of Joseph’s brothers as well as the Pharaoh who saves Joseph from life in prison. In an Elvis impersonation beyond his years, a pompadour-ed MacDonald sways, sneers and gyrates his way through an entertaining R&B number in which he begs Joseph to help in deciphering his haunting dreams.

Rounding out the cast is a chorus of younger elementary-aged children, who listen intently as the narrators unfold the tale, and Joseph’s 11 rambunctious brothers, who romp and dance their way through several numbers.

Ludgewait admitted that working with 47 kids, most of them teens, has its challenges.

“This is the first time I’ve worked with teen-agers,” she said, wryly adding that choreographing the boys’ dance numbers was “slightly difficult.”

Nevertheless, she said the devotion of the cast has been unwavering, and come show time the seven weeks of intense rehearsal will have paid off.

“They’re incredibly talented,” she said. “They’re going to have it nailed.”

Ludgewait said at first she was a little worried about filling all the roles in the boy-intensive play.

“I thought I was going to have to put girls in boys roles,” she said. “But we were really lucky.”

In fact, the trio of narrators was created as a way to get more girls in the play, she said.

Eighth-grader Scotty Howard, in the lead role of Joseph, pretends to try on his multicolored coat early in the play./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

“Denise had done that before and suggested the concept,” Ludgewait said. “There’s so few places for girls.”

The Durango version of the play also strays from Webber’s in that one of the numbers, originally done to a ’70s disco beat, was transformed into a rap at the request of the students.

“The kids did that one on their own,” said Ludgewait. “It used to be a ’70s disco number, but they couldn’t really relate to that, so we said ‘OK, do what you want with it.’”

The result is a spirited foray that brings the play, which was first written in 1968, into the new millennium.

In addition to bridging generations, Hagemeister said the play also created a bridge between students by uniting actors from the Arts Force with those from Durango Lively Arts.

“It takes kids who normally wouldn’t work together,” she said.

And so far so good with the unique partnership between the two groups.

“This is the first time Arts Force and Durango Lively Arts have partnered, and it’s worked really, really well,” Hagemeister said.

But don’t take her word for it. She believes the proof will be in the production, which takes to the stage Friday night.

“I don’t think anyone will be disappointed,” she said. “The talent of the kids is remarkable and amazing to watch.”







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