'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' delivers parody — not mockery — and a sweet story at The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is now on stage at The Players Centre. Featuring a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the musical was born as a “pop cantata” in 1968. Webber and Rice clearly knew they had a good thing going. The lads followed it up with “Jesus Christ Superstar” (originally a concept album) in 1970.
Apart from biblical DNA and shared creators, these two musicals have little in common. “Superstar” brought a sharply, cynical worldview to the greatest story ever told — a heady mix of realpolitik, media manipulation, and a rock star take on the Messiah’s mass appeal. “Dreamcoat” has no satire, no subtext. It’s a straight-up Bible story, period. There’s plenty of parody, but zero mockery.
In case it’s been a while since vacation Bible school, here’s a quick refresher course on the story.
Somewhere in Canaan land, Jacob has 12 sons, the progenitors of the future tribes of Israel. The youngest, Joseph, is a nice kid with a gift for precognitive dream interpretation. He’s clearly his father’s favorite. With his brothers, not so much. When Jacob rewards his favorite son with the titular “Technicolor Dreamcoat,” they decide to get rid of him. The jealous brothers fake Joseph’s death, and sell him into slavery in Egypt. Over in the land of the pyramids, Joseph quickly moves up from the prison gang to a position as Pharaoh’s national security adviser. He decodes Pharaoh’s dream about seven fat cows and seven lean cows. (It translates to seven years of plenty, then seven years of famine.) Egypt stocks up during the good times, and survives the bad. Back in Canaan, Jacob and the kids are starving. They schlep on over to Egypt and beg Joseph for help. (They don’t recognize their own brother, because Joseph’s decked out in Egyptian finery.) Joseph makes his brothers sweat a little, then reveals his true identity, and let’s them know all is forgiven. The 12 tribes relocate to Egypt. What could possibly go wrong?
The show is fast-paced and fun. Unlike a lot of musicals, “Dreamcoat” never drags. It’s smart, economical storytelling. Even at the start, Webber and Rice knew what they were doing.
Cory Boyas does double duty as director and choreographer. His direction deftly evokes Joseph’s “Alice in Wonderland”-style plunge into a strange new world. His dance numbers are athletic, balletic and kicky. Kudos also to Georgina Willmott’s witty costumes, and Jeff Weber’s set of many colors.
Rice and Webber’s clever song parodies set the tune for Joseph’s journey. These include Western hoedowns, mournful French bistro ballads, calypso, and old-time rock and roll. (In the Players incarnation, Pharaoh is a female who croons like Cher.) It’s great material—and none of it’s wasted. Musical Director Alan Corey rocks like an Egyptian.
It’s a large-cast production. If you needed to build a small pyramid, the actors could probably manage. But here are a few highlights …
Christos Nicholoudis’ Joseph is the center of the wheel. The story revolves around him. Through good times and bad, he always keeps his cool. Nicholoudis makes you feel Joseph’s pain when he hits rock bottom in the “Close Every Door” number — and feel his joy at the final reconciliation. As the narrator, Jamie Molina keeps the story spinning. She’s bursting with life, and steals the show in all of her scenes. Zoe Smith does a hilariously lock-jawed Cher imitation. Eldred Brown is equally sidesplitting in the improbable “Benjamin's Calypso.”
In the Bible according to Webber and Rice, Joseph’s dreamy odyssey is a sweet story with a happy ending. Theologians can argue about the details. But “Dreamcoat” is a lot of fun. Who could argue with that?