With Pharoah dressed like Elvis, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has always had a mix of gentle irreverence, humor and popular musical appeal. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's 1970 musical adaptation of the biblical story of Joseph is an all-ages, light-hearted tale about overcoming obstacles told almost entirely in song. It opens Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre's season Thursday, and director Diane Lala says the grab bag of musical styles is part of the show's charm.
"The lyrics are clever, and there's a country-Western number and a calypso," Lala says.
The show is different than many recently popular jukebox musicals (Jersey Boys, Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story) says Summer Lyric's new artistic director Michael McKelvey, but it calls for what remain the theater's hallmark elements.
"Big sets, big casts, great costumes and a full orchestra — that's always going to be part of what we do," McKelvey says. "We're one of the only companies that I know of nationally that uses a full orchestra — including Broadway."
McKelvey took over from B. Michael Howard, who directed the program for 18 years and now is in an emeritus position. Howard has been with Summer Lyric for most of its 49 years.
Summer Lyric has operated like a summer stock theater — with professional and community actors and Tulane students who regularly audition and perform. Nine Tulane students have been cast in roles this season, and McKelvey is expanding the theater's talent pool by working with actors from top university and conservatory programs outside the region. The leads of Joseph and Thoroughly Modern Millie (July 7-10) both hail from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. (Lala is a New Orleans native who has performed in and directed Summer Lyric shows and currently is a teacher at the Cincin- nati Conservatory.)
Summer Lyric's season concludes with Big River (July 28-31), the musical adaption of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which won seven Tony Awards when it debuted on Broadway in the 1985. It's one of McKelvey's favorite shows, and he'll direct it.
"I think it's an important piece about acceptance," he says.
McKelvey plans to focus on classics and shows that have the staying power to join the canon, he says. He will schedule at least one family-friendly show per season.
In his first year, McKelvey also began work on building Summer Lyric's audiences. The theater traditionally has had one summer program for kids, Little Lyric. He's expanded that to three programs, focused on different age groups — Little Lyric for younger children, Junior Lyric for middle school students and an intensive technical program for high school students. McKelvey teaches musical theater at Tulane, and he initiated a service learning class (Tulane students must take two such courses to graduate) called the Story Road Project, in which 10 students acted as a small company that traveled to area public schools to perform and educate.
"My goal is to get every region of the city to know the Tulane Summer Lyric name," he says.
McKelvey also is reaching out in simpler ways, such as social media initiatives. He also had Summer Lyric's first season poster created.
"I hadn't planned it when I programmed (my) first season, but I realized there was a theme of adventure running through the shows," he says. "The poster says 'Join us for a season of adventure.'"