Budweiser Gardens was transformed into a Broadway Theatre last night for a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s beloved musical is a retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob’s favourite son Joseph and his jealous brothers. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, the current production feels anything but Biblical: with hip-hop style dance sequences and rock concert lighting.
From the opening note to the end, Joseph moves from song to song without any spoken dialogue. There’s no need for dialogue, the songs tell the story well. As the house lights dim, a boy lies in a bed onstage, dreaming (a key theme throughout the production as Joseph has a knack for interpreting dreams). Narrated by an unnamed character who serves as storyteller (who’s singing at times was a little hard-edged) we are soon introduced to Jacob and his sons (“Jacob & Sons“) and watch as Jacob gifts his beloved son a coat of many colours (“Joseph’s Coat“).
The coat sparks jealousy among the 11 less favoured brothers. After a failed plot to kill Joseph, they sell him in to slavery, telling Jacob that Joseph has died through the amusing country song “One More Angel In Heaven”. Joseph curries favour with his captor, Potiphar, and all seems to be going well until he catches the eye of Mrs. Potiphar, landing Joseph back in chains after a romp under the sheets.
It is in “Close Every Door To Me” that we finally get to hear a solo from the lead character. JC McCann as Joseph delivered a well-sung, warm and soulful performance that could easily compete with Donny Osmond’s rendition in the 90’s production. Act One ends with the cheeky “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” urging Joseph not to give up, telling him “We’ve read the book and you come out on top.” The scene ends with Joseph interpreting the dreams of a butler and a baker, servants of King Pharaoh.
Act Two begins with Pharaoh’s story and finds Joseph called upon to interpret his dream. Joe Ventricelli, in the role of the Pharaoh, provides a crowd pleasing Elvis Presley impersonation in “Song of the King” and “Stone the Crows.” Pure genius, especially as the scenes in Act Two flow seamlessly across several more musical genres.
The scene is followed by the equally delightful and entertaining “Those Canaan Days” (a French café number delivered by Peter Surace as Simeon). The goofy lament has the brothers bemoaning their lot and missing their brother while performing a tightly choreographed dinner-plate routine reminiscent of The Cup Song or Stomp.
The show quickly proceeds with a few more scenes featuring the brothers as they travel to Egypt (“The Brothers Came To Egypt“), groveling for food (“Grovel, Grovel“) and finding Joseph (who has yet to be recognized by his brothers) planting a cup in Benjamin’s sack (“Who’s The Thief?“). What follows is a surprising musical sojourn to the Islands in the calypso inspired “Benjamin Calypso” which finds Kyle Freeman’s Judah imploring their benefactor to “save him – take me“. Moved by Judah’s plea, Joseph declares his brothers honest men and reveals himself to be their brother (“Joseph All The Time“).
The fast pace of the musical, perhaps timed this way to capture shorter modern attention spans, continues with Jacob reuniting with Joseph (“Jacob in Egypt“) and a reprise of “Any Dream Will Do.” The closing dance party “Joseph Megamix” reminded me of the dance party at the end of Mamma Mia, compressing many of the musical motifs of the past hour and a half into roughly 9 minutes.
For many, the enduring fun of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat lies in its witty lyrics and tour through several musical styles. First penned in 1968, the production has stood the test of time. Conceived as a school cantata, the musical found a home among school groups long before its Broadway debut. It’s interesting to note that the only other staging of Joseph that I’ve seen was at my baby sister’s grade school (she played the Baker). Though the Joseph of 2015 feels much more like a rock opera than high school musical, the cut-outs of sheep and goats at the top of the show brought back wonderful memories of the school production of my youth.
Overall, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was enjoyable and entertaining. Ventrilli’s turn as “The King” and the Brothers’ French inspired ensemble were the real stars of the show. And Blankenbuehler’s choreography and simple sets, enhanced only by the use of projections and lighting that make the scenes come alive, project a very modern feel on this classic musical. The production is a fun night filled with many moments that any musical theatre fan (or dreamer) is sure to enjoy.
My companion for the show was an 18-year-old young lady – certainly a discriminating viewer. She laughed through the performance and loved the show, proving it to be a fun time for theatregoers of all ages. With plenty of humour and spirited performances, I doubt the show will fade away into obscurity. Much like Joseph’s coat of many colours, the Lloyd-Webber / Rice production manages to weave together a variety of musical styles, ensuring that this production will be reimagined again and again for decades to come.
Thank you to Budweiser Gardens for selecting me as their #BGReviewer. It was interesting to see how a venue with a seating capacity of roughly 10,000 could be transformed into a much more intimate venue for touring Broadway shows.
Photo credit: Budweiser Gardens Twitter Feed