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Director Jennifer Parker Hohl considers herself a "Joseph" junkie.
Playing the Narrator, she's offered more than 400 performances in some 13 or 14 productions of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" throughout the Salt Lake valley.
Now she's directing a production that will be one of the last shows at Hale Centre Theatre's West Valley City theater, 18 years after she performed in the musical's first run there in 1999.
One new wrinkle in this production is that Conlon Bonner, who will play Joseph, is black. He alternates in the role with Zack Wilson, a white actor who performed the role last year at Hale Center Theater Orem.
Hohl enjoys talking about the black Joseph angle, but says the colorblind casting decision wasn't a political statement. "We just cast the two best guys." She didn't cast Joseph's brothers for their physical resemblances, either, selecting actors instead for their age range in the family.
Bonner "just has this openness in his singing and his person," says the director, who performed along with him in HCT's production of "Big River" last summer, when the 28-year-old actor was double-cast as Jim along with his father, Harry. "Both of our Josephs have killer smiles and killer bodies."
Bonner calls Joseph one of his dream roles, adding that he has previously been cast in roles written for black actors. "Playing this role, knowing they didn't have to cast a black guy, knowing they were just looking for a good person for this role it means so much more to me," he says.
His skin color might raise questions for some theatergoers, but he hopes they will consider the ethnicity of the Old Testament's Israelite and Egyptian people.
Thinking through racial questions might help theatergoers settle into the musical's story, Hohl says. "If they decide 'No, it doesn't matter,' then halfway through his introductory song, they'll be there."
In the "Hamilton" era of post-colorblind storytelling, Bonner hopes casting decisions will open up "to offer a world of opportunity for all kinds of people."
"When George Washington is being played by a black guy, it shows the world is ready for it," Bonner says. "It's just people playing people, instead of race being involved."
In all, HCT has produced the Utah favorite five times. But even experienced "Joseph" lovers might find other surprises in this production.
Hohl praises Joy Zhu's Persian-influenced costumes, with rich colors, beadwork and harem pants. In addition, the theater has purchased new technology to support Brian Healy's super-saturated lighting design.
"I guarantee you've never seen lighting like this anywhere in the state or surrounding states. Maybe in Las Vegas," the director said, adding: "I've had to wear sunglasses in some of the rehearsals because it's so bright."
A handful of cast members are returning to "Joseph" roles, as addicted to performing the story as Utahns are to repeat viewings. "It's a real story, even though it's goofy and cheeky, and it's about family and forgiveness," Hohl says. "I don't see the love affair with 'Joseph' fading."
Any dream will do
Hale Centre Theatre presents the Utah favorite "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
When • Nightly at 7:30, except Sundays, with Saturday matinees at 12:30 and 4 p.m., through Aug. 12
Where • Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City
Tickets • $34 adults, $18 youth; children under 5 not permitted; 801-984-9000 or hct.org
Also • For this show, HCT Applauds honors Salt Lake City's Shriners Hospital for Children, the specialized orthopedic hospital.