I am very familiar with the popular family musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Not only have I seen several versions of it in the past, but I performed in an adaptation about the boy whose dreams predicted the future at my middle school. Director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has made a new interpretation that keeps the tongue in cheek and earnest tone intact, and there are enough fresh aspects for this revival to stand out.
Based on the story of Joseph from The Book of Genesis, Joseph (American Idol contestant Ace Young) is the favorite son of his father, Jacob (William Thomas Evans). His eleven brothers grow increasingly jealous of him, and they decide to sell Joseph into slavery. Soon, the dreamer is forced to live in Egypt. The Biblical protagonist’s life continues to drastically change after he meets powerful men such as the greedy Potiphar (Evans) and the authoritative Pharaoh (Ryan Williams).
The touring show, now playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre, feels even more modernized than previous incarnations. Daniel Brodie’s projections, Beowulf Boritt’s scenery and Jennifer Caprio’s flashy costumes create an extravagant tone, though the stage is generally spare. This makes for an interesting change of pace compared to other big budget Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacles, such as The Phantom of the Opera and Cats.
Blankenbuehler’s direction creates a mood that is exciting and laid back. Although there are plenty of fast paced moments, he allows plenty of time for extended comic relief in musical numbers including “Stone the Crows” and “Song of the King.”
His choreography is at its best during sequences that focus on Joseph’s many brothers. The characters of Reuben (Brian Golub), Simeon (Paul Castree) and Benjamin (Brandon Hudson) get to display dance moves that are impressively clever.
The orchestra, led by music director and keyboardist, Wayne Green, perform several eclectic styles of music. They are just as adept with country music (“One More Angel in Heaven”) as they are with dramatic French ballads (“Those Canaan Days”).
While Young is well known for his singing skills, I was even more surprised by the depth he gives to the role of Joseph. He decides to depict him as a relatively normal and flawed man living an extraordinary existence, as opposed to a saintly hero. This approach pays off and makes Joseph a person worth rooting for.
American Idol contestant Diana DeGarmo (Young’s wife) gives the role of the Narrator a 21st century spin. I was initially caught off guard by her contemporary sound, since I am used to hearing the Narrator sing in a more classical style. She quickly grew on me with her commanding voice and sly comic timing.
Every successful production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat needs to have a standout musical comedy actor to portray the Elvis-esque Pharaoh and Williams does not disappoint. His gleefully campy tribute to the legendary singer is both cool and hilarious.
Speaking of camp, the plot mostly has a delicate balance of lighthearted and heavy material. The one major song where it is an awkward mix is during the reggae influenced “Benjamin Calypso.” This is during one of the darkest parts of the entire evening, but the upbeat music and lyrics by Tim Rice sounds unintentionally jarring as well as cheesy. What is ironic is that the tune itself is addicting, but the execution is somewhat sloppy.
Admittedly, the touching resolution makes up for this flaw and there is a catchy reprise of “Benjamin Calypso” during the big finale entitled, “Joseph Megamix.”
With inspirational and cheerful moments, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat can appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike. Even those who know the material inside and out, like me, will find themselves enjoying the theatrical experience.