REVIEW // 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'
The Rochester Broadway Theatre League launched its 2014-2015 season on Tuesday night with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Bible-based Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical extravaganza (also forever linked to Donny Osmond, who played the title role in the 1999 film version).
An eager audience—ranging in age from nine to ninety—settled in the velvet seats of the Auditorium Theatre before the show, quietly unwrapping mints, gum, and tiny American flag pins handed to each ticket holder in honor of Veterans Day. A few patrons snapped selfies and shots of the playbill, hastily uploading them to social media to create FOMO for friends and family.
Onstage, a lone bed stood behind a scrim. Projections began on the scrim while the house lights were still on, and it’s here that Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s artistic vision for the very-open-to-interpretation production begins. The projections are the dreams of the sleeper—from fifteenth century ships to astronauts on the moon—and tucked beneath the ‘quilt of many colors’ is a modern Joseph (Ace Young), who awakens from slumber and ages from childhood to career in a whirlwind prologue. The prologue is a fun, inventive nod to the overarching dreamer theme and lyrics like “Joseph you're doing fine/you and your dreamcoat ahead of your time.”
The Narrator (Diana DeGarmo) quickly establishes the Book of Genesis plot about the patriarch Jacob and his twelve sons. Joseph is one of the younger sons, born of Jacob’s favorite wife, and has a gift for interpreting dreams. He receives a coat of many colors from his father, who favors him among all his children. The jealous brothers eventually sell Joseph into slavery and fake his death. From there, Joseph is taken to Egypt where he becomes part of Pharaoh's household.
It’s important to understand a few things about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was never meant to be a “serious” show. It’s a kitschy crowd pleaser—in many ways, the perfect ‘first-timer’ musical. The format was meant to be colorful and playful, which means eclectic “Technicolor” projections, pop culture references, and time-hopping costumes and musical genres all have a distinct place on stage. Vegas-type props, cheesy smiles, and a lack of character dimension are at home here, too—maybe even necessary.
It’s an ideal production to showcase big names like married American Idol alums Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo. Are they the strongest choices for their roles? Maybe not, though DeGarmo has a set of pipes that really shine in some scenes. Young’s voice was built for rock ’n’ roll, and the few songs that border on that style (“Grovel, Grovel”) are his best moments.
The real show stoppers in the production are the eleven brothers, including Greece native Mark Roland, who deliver both standout individual and ensemble performances. The “Parisian” Simeon (Paul Castree), “Elvis impersonator” Pharaoh (Ryan Williams), and “calypso” Judah (Max Kumangai) were easily the crowd favorites of the evening.
So while Joseph wasn’t written (or in this case, cast) to please critics or overcritical theatergoers, that’s OK. Let’s appreciate Joseph for its values. It’s a fun night out for families and American Idol fans, and it will bring back happy memories for those who once performed as a brother on a community theater stage, or played the Narrator in a small town high school production.
Joseph runs through Sunday, November 16. [On Friday, November 14, BUY ONE adult ticket, GET ONE kid ticket free. Ticket discounts are also available for select shows if you bring in a winter coat to donate.] More information here.
Leah Stacy is the editor-in-chief of (585) magazine and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.