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At rehearsals for the upcoming production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at the Ivoryton Playhouse, cast member Craig Hines discovered something he had never observed before.
"These actors have no egos, and you know that's very unusual for actors," he says.
Hines, a Killingworth resident, plays Simeon, one of Joseph's brothers.
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" will open on Feb. 28, with additional performances on March 1 and 2. The play is the first hit musical by British composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and dramatizes the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.
Instead of egos, Hines says, the current performers have something that is equally important: enthusiasm. The cast of 40 is comprised equally of 20 who attend Vista Vocational and Life Skills Center and 20 actors from the community who range from elementary school students to adults.
Vista, with offices in Westbrook and Madison, provides training and living opportunities for people over the age of 18 with life challenges, among them autism, learning disabilities and traumatic brain injury. It serves clients from all over the United States, with 40 percent of them from Connecticut.
Vista participants have done productions at the Ivoryton Playhouse before, but they were variety shows and did not include any outside talent. Blending both Vista and community actors is something new.
"This is an opportunity to demystify our population," says Jeanean Cox, Vista Arts Program manager. "Using an all-abilities cast was groundbreaking."
Cox admits that when auditions took place last fall, she held her breath.
"Our students had never done a full musical; they never had to stand up and sing a full solo," she says.
But the production process allayed all her fears.
"They never cease to impress me. It's been wonderful to see the process," she says.
Lori Cartwright, who in her professional life is marketing manager at Goodspeed Musicals, is volunteering as stage manager on "Joseph." She says she has particularly enjoyed seeing how community members and Vista participants have learned to work together.
"Certain people have adopted other people in the cast. The whole thing blends together," she says. At a recent rehearsal, Hines gave a discreet hand to Matt Sarti, who uses a walker.
"After all, I'm Simeon; he's Reuben, we're both Joseph's brothers," he says.
According to Cox, organizers selected "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" because it is performed entirely in song, and it was thought that melody would make memorization easier.
Memorization, however, has been no problem for Brian Ruddy, who plays Joseph.
"He knows every word of the whole play," Cartwright says.
Ruddy, a Vista member who lives independently, works as a cart collector at Wal-Mart in Old Saybrook. His roommates and fellow cast members Jordan Hershon and John Tillinghast also know most of the words.
"Brian sings all the time," Tillinghast explains.
Tillinghast works at Benny's in Old Saybrook and Hershon also works at Wal-Mart. Both enjoy the interaction they are having with members of the larger community.
"It's fabulous to get to meet people who have seen me at work," he says.
"I know more people than ever now. I can show people who I am," Hershon adds.
Ruddy projects his songs with style and authority, but he prefers pointing the spotlight on his colleagues.
"We have an amazing cast; we're all trying to do our best and we're having fun with other talented people," he says. "I love putting it all out there."
Jacqui Hubbard, the executive director of the Ivoryton Playhouse, said word of the production has begun to get around.
"We've already had people calling for tickets," she says. "You'd have to be made of stone not to love this."
WHAT: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 2, at 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton
TICKETS: Tickets are $30. Call (860) 767-7318.