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STAGE REVIEW

‘Joseph,’ led by a former Idol, hums along

Anthony Fedorov, who finished fourth on “American Idol,’’ stars in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’’ at the North Shore Music Theatre. Anthony Fedorov, who finished fourth on “American Idol,’’ stars in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’’ at the North Shore Music Theatre. (Paul Lyden)
By Louise Kennedy
Globe Staff / August 9, 2010

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BEVERLY — Sometimes low expectations are a wonderful thing. Who on earth would drive to Beverly, I thought as I drove to Beverly, to see a fourth-place finisher from “American Idol’’ perform in that staple of church schools and community theaters, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’’?

Well, it turns out that Anthony Fedorov, the semi-demi-Idol in question, has a terrific voice and a winsome stage presence. If he’s a bit elfin for the role — who knew Legolas went down to Egypt? — he’s also refreshingly sweet and unforced, both in his acting and in his singing. And the newly revived North Shore Music Theatre has surrounded him with a skilled cast in a snazzy, subtly humorous production that makes the most of the musical’s undeniable poppy fizz.

It’s sometimes hard to believe, in fact, that the lugubrious and bombastic Andrew Lloyd Webber of “Phantom’’ and “Cats’’ was once capable of such lightly entertaining and seemingly effortless music as he provided for “Joseph,’’ with its playful pastiches of everything from rockabilly to French ballad to calypso. On the evidence of “Joseph’’ and “Jesus Christ Superstar,’’ it’s startlingly obvious in hindsight that he never should have split from Tim Rice, whose sportive rhymes and cleverly compressed storytelling provide the necessary leavening for Lloyd Webber’s weightier pretensions.

But all that’s ancient history now, and of little interest to the full audience that was clearly there on opening night just to have a good time — and absolutely did. Little girls and their grandmothers alike relished the show’s fast pace, amusing characters, and snappy tunes, and no doubt Fedorov’s extremely blond cuteness is only an asset, not an oddity, for this crowd.

Director and choreographer Jayme McDaniel also deploys a chorus of 20 local children, who are given just enough to do as they listen to the narrator, the engaging Jennifer Paz, tell the story of the biblical Joseph, his cruel brothers, his dreams, and his eventual triumph. McDaniel keeps the children’s choreography extremely simple — always a wise move — but also shows his expertise with one stylish number after another for the adults.

The brothers’ hoedown after they have sold Joseph into slavery is particularly entertaining, with plenty of high-steppin’, knee-slappin’ tomfoolery, and even a few do-si-dos for the kiddie chorus. Also amusing is “A Pharaoh Story,’’ with Gary Lynch’s late-Elvis Pharaoh swirling his gold-lined cape with gleeful abandon as a bevy of Art Deco Egyptian dancers capers about him. And Daniel C. Levine’s ridiculously over-the-top lamenting as Naphthali in the Piaf-esque “Those Canaan Days’’ benefits as much from the cabaret-style dancers around him as it does from his impressively, and hilariously, long-extended notes.

Costume coordinator Jose Rivera adds to the fun with plenty of lavish gold-trimmed excesses for the Egyptians, and with some ironic touches of modernity for everyone: sunglasses for the pharaoh, ripstop nylon backpacks for the slave traders, and insane flower-child uniforms for Joseph’s fellow prisoners in Egypt — with the nice additional joke of stamping each uniform “1968,’’ in case you were forgetting the show’s vintage. Campbell Baird’s scenic design reinforces the mood of playful ’60s nostalgia; it also gives McDaniel plenty of open space to ease the restrictions of directing in the round. And of course it’s simply wonderful to hear a live orchestra, here under the expert direction of Eric Alsford.

But this is Joseph’s show, and it wouldn’t work nearly so well if Fedorov didn’t carry it on his slender shoulders with unassuming grace. From his first phrases in “Any Dream Will Do,’’ he makes a strong connection with the audience; he uses his lovely voice not to show off his abilities, but to tell the story of each song.

No one really needs to see “Joseph’’ again. But if you want to, this one makes it worth the trip.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at kennedy@globe.com.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT Musical with lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Directed and choreographed by: Jayme McDaniel. Musical direction, Eric Alsford. Set, Campbell Baird. Costume coordinator, Jose Rivera. Lights, Christopher S. Chambers. Sound, James R. McCartney. Wigs and hair, Gerard Kelly.

At: North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through Aug. 22. Tickets $35-$65. 978-232-7200, www.nsmt.org