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UTEP Dinner Theatre celebrates its 35th anniversary

Claudia Flores
The UTEP Dinner Theatre will celebrate its 35th anniversary by putting on stage a new version of Tim Rice’s classic “ Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on April 20.

As part of its 35th anniversary, the UTEP Dinner Theater is set to present “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on April 20.

Back in 1983, when the dinner theater opened its doors, this Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical was the first production to run at the theater.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is based on the Bible story in the book of Genesis, about a young dreamer named Joseph. He was abandoned by his 11 brothers in Egypt and being a prisoner, rises triumphant as part of the Egyptian government and reunites with his family for a happily ever after.

“I get to direct so many different types of shows from the classic up to the latest releases. I also enjoy working with the creative people on our staff who design and make the sets, costumes, props and music for our shows,” said Greg Taylor, director the UDT and of the show.

Claudia Flores
The UTEP Dinner Theatre will celebrate its 35th anniversary by putting on stage a new version of Tim Rice’s classic “ Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on April 20.

Taylor founded the UDT in 1983 when he was an undergraduate student at UTEP. After being given a $1,000 grant by the Special Programs and Activities Committee of the Student Programs Office, Taylor and his friend Jimmy Legarreta presented “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” as a dinner theater show.

The first production took place in the former student Union Ballroom, and after three sold-out shows, Sonny Castro, who was the director of the Union at the time, gave Taylor a work-study position to run the concept of the dinner theater.

Named the Union Dinner Theatre, in 1998 the theater was renamed as the UTEP Dinner Theatre and has kept a four-show season tradition since then.

“We have a very talented crew/staff that make our productions shine. UTEP has been very good to me.  I started out as a volunteer student, then was hired as a work-study student,” Taylor said. “A few years later I was hired as a full-time staff member and now I am an associate professor getting to work in a field I love–all thanks to the many administrators over the years who have supported me and the dinner theater.”

He has directed and produced over 140 shows at the UDT. His passion for theater has taken him to work as a production assistant on the Broadway production of the musical “Chess.”

Since 1983, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” has been staged five additional times at the UDT.

“This is our sixth production of ‘Joseph,’ but it is almost an entirely new production. We are using one backdrop from our previous productions, but the rest of the set is brand new as are all of the costumes for this special production,” Taylor said.

Ricardo Parra, a UTEP graduate and medical student at Paul L. Foster Medical School and principal character of the play, said it’s definitely a privilege and a special opportunity to be part of this UDT production, not only because it’s the show that started it all, but because it’s also produced and directed by the guy who founded the UTEP Dinner Theatre, Greg Taylor.

“I was in the last 2010 production of Joseph, and it’s awesome to see how the theater continues to progress and run strong,” Parra said.

For Parra, this is the third time since high school that he goes on the stage as part of the cast for the Tim Rice classic.

“This musical is pretty much a storybook come to life.  It presents the story of Joseph in a fun and silly way, while still keeping the integrity of the biblical story,” Parra said. I love the concept of having to be comical and over the top, because it presents few limits for a performer.”

From the start, the UDT built a special relationship with the work of renown lyricist Tim Rice, as his other plays such as “Blondel,” Tycoon” and “Chess” have also been presented at the theater. The production of “Chess” took Taylor and his UTEP team on to win the national award of the American College Theatre Festival in 1989 and they performed the play at the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington DC.

“It is amazing to realize that our little 184-seat theater (after 35 years, 150 productions and over 400,000 tickets sold, grossing over $8,000,000 in sales) has become the most successful theater in El Paso, Texas, regularly selling out and holding over most of our productions,” Taylor said. “We are still (as far as we know) the only full-time, year-round independently producing dinner theater on a university campus in the United States.”

Claudia Flores may be reached at [email protected].

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Claudia Flores, Editor-in-chief
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UTEP Dinner Theatre celebrates its 35th anniversary