Jennifer Caprio has some advice for the many other professional and amateur costume designers who have been charged with creating the titular coat in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which opens at the Saenger Theatre on Tuesday, April 14.
“Even if you have a small budget, just remember to tell the story with truth and love,” she said. “If you care about what you are doing and you love what you are doing, it is possible to create a piece of art no matter what your budget. You don’t have to have all the flash — but it sure does help if you have someone who can sew.”
With her work gracing Broadway hits such as “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and stylish operas such as “Salome” and “Pagliacci,” it’s clear that Caprio can sew.
And the work she’s done on the current production of Joseph is among her favorites.
For this production, she’s created more than 300 costumes and, of course, one very special coat. The illustrious coat has been through a number of transformations, from the simple one Donny Osmond wore in the 1991 production to Caprio’s creation in this current North American tour.
The play is based on a story in the Bible’s book of Genesis, which tells of a father’s love for one of his sons, Joseph and his gift to him of a coat of many colors. This predictably results in the jealousy of Joseph’s 11 brothers, who contrive to sell him into slavery.
The story takes us through Joseph’s trials and triumphs and his eventual journey back home to his family.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” marked the beginning of the very successful partnership of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who also wrote “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita.” Joseph first appeared in the West End in 1973 and was staged on Broadway for the first time in 1982. It remains one of the world’s most performed musicals and includes such songs as “Those Canaan Days,” “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door.”
This revival is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Andy Blankenbuehler and features Broadway/television star Diana DeGarmo, who plays the Narrator, and Ace Young, who plays Joseph. Both actors gained fame as contestants on “American Idol” and in real life are husband and wife.
As in any production of this play, the coat is integral to the telling of the story and getting it just right was important to the play’s creative team. From the design phrase to finished product the coat took three months to produce and consists of 12 panels that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Each image was hand drawn, and then the motifs were hand painted onto fabric and appliqued onto the panels.
The design was inspired by Marc Chagall’s world-famous stained glass windows for the Abbell Synagogue at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Caprio was in early meetings about the production with Blankenbuehler and Daniel Brodie, who is the production’s video and production designer, when the beauty of Chargall’s windows came up in the discussion.
“We decided that we could translate the look of the stained glass into something like a quilt,” said Caprio. “So I created 12 panels, for the 12 brothers, and I filled them with motifs representing each brother, inspired by Chagall’s windows.”
The stained glass inspiration is taken to full effect in the show’s finale, when the stage is completely filled by the coat’s technicolor splendor.
“We use 21st century theatrical tricks of illusion: light and video, and the end result is actually pretty spectacular,” said Caprio. “It helps us tell the story of the reunion of the whole family and gives it a deeper inner meaning as it all comes together in end. The coat becomes a symbol of love and family.”