For more than 20 years, Tommy Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt has dreamed of playing the title role in a musical with one of the longest names ever.
That dream comes true starting June 24th, as the irrepressible 32-year-old Moline native and Countryside Community Theatre in Eldridge will open “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” at North Scott High School.
One of the most enduring shows of all time (written in 1968 by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice) “Joseph” is a colorful reimagining of the Biblical story of Joseph, his father Jacob, 11 brothers and the famous many-hued coat.
“I’ve been around this show since I was 10 years old,” Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt said in a recent interview. “This was one that my mom would put on and we would watch together and I would spin around and I can see it, spinning around in my parents’ family room.”
“When I found out that I got the role, my husband and I were at an event in Chicago, and I stepped outside and I was just like hysterically sobbing, and I was so happy,” he recalled. “I called my mom and she thought something was wrong and I’m like, no. I’m like, mom, I got it. I got it.”
While he directed CCT’s “The Music Man” last summer, “Joseph” marks his performing debut on the CCT stage. Favorite career credits include playing Robert in Company and The Balladeer in Assassins (Black Box Theatre), Emmett Forrest in Legally Blonde (Muscatine), Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors and Marcellus Washburn in The Music Man (Cedar County Stoplight Players), Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show (Circa ’21 Speakeasy) and Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (QC Music Guild).
Story told fully through song
In “Joseph,” the story is told entirely through song with the help of a main character Narrator (here embodied by two women), and the musical follows preferred son Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, he ingratiates himself with Egyptian noble Potiphar, but ends up in jail after refusing the amorous advances of Potiphar’s wife.
While imprisoned, Joseph discovers his ability to interpret dreams, and he soon finds himself in front of the mighty but troubled, Elvis-inspired, Pharaoh. Joseph’s solution to Egypt’s famine elevates him to Pharaoh’s right-hand man and reunites him with his family.
The magical musical — directed and music directed by Karl Bodenbender — is full of catchy songs in a variety of styles, from a parody of French ballads (“Those Canaan Days”), to country-western (“One More Angel in Heaven”) and calypso (“Benjamin Calypso”), along with the unforgettable classics “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door.”
Over 20 area students are in the show’s children’s choir.
“It’s absolutely adorable to see them. For some of them, I think this is their first theater experience,” Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt said. He was in the ensemble for a Music Guild production of “Joseph” in 2007, the summer before his senior year at Moline High. He will be 33 in July, after the show closes.
He’s especially stoked since he shares the CCT stage with Music Guild veteran Hillary Erb. It’s been 13 years since Tommy has been on stage with Hillary, his best friend from high school, when they were in a Music Guild production of “Seussical.”
His favorite high school play was “Cabaret,” senior year, when he was Herr Schultz.
Loving the lead in “Company”
Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt hasn’t been in any shows since last fall’s “Company,” at Moline’s Black Box Theatre, when he played the iconic lead, Bobby. The current Tony-winning Broadway revival has gender-flipped two key roles – the lead is the female Bobbie, and the former Amy is the gay man Jamie.
“It made me so happy,” Tommy said of the new version, which debuted in London in 2018, directed there and on Broadway by Marianne Elliott. “I’m glad this story was told with a female lead.”
Playing Bobby was very emotional for him, in the way it was revealed the 35-year-old bachelor turned out to be gay, as Tommy is in real life.
“The message from his friends was saying it doesn’t matter who you are, we support you, we are here to celebrate you,” he said of the rainbow birthday cake at the end.
Despite the rainbow-like technicolor dreamcoat in “Joseph,” and the title character’s dreamy long locks, there’s no homosexual subtext in it.
The last Music Guild show Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt was in was 2017’s “West Side Story,” playing one of the Sharks.
The double narrators for “Joseph” are played at CCT by Erb and Kirsten Sindelar (a Circa ’21 Bootlegger).
“They are so powerful. What they’re doing, with the harmony and how they play off of each other on stage, it’s so, my God,” Tommy said. “I just keep saying how wonderful it is, but it’s just it’s so awesome and so special.”
Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt (who has no brothers in real life) admires the show for its message of forgiveness and love.
“That’s the family, and the forgiveness, the love, and the joy and the embrace, especially when they think that Joseph is no more,” he said. “The things that he did for his brothers despite their misgivings. It’s love.”
“The music is so great, that kids love and adults love,” he added. “I mean, what’s not to love about Joseph?”
Performances will start at 7 p.m. June 24, 25, July 1, and 2, and at 2 p.m. June 26 and July 3. Tickets are $15, available HERE. Countryside also recently announced that its 2023 musicals will be “Footloose” and “Into the Woods.”