Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Sure, when Stages St. Louis puts on its own Bible-based pageant, it's a million times more glitzy, and elaborate, and well-rehearsedusing adults who have devoted most of their lives to the theater. And in this case they all come under the meticulous direction and choreography of Stephen Bourneuf. But Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is essentially the same lame nonsense as my own church's sword-and-sandals playlets: a scriptural story told in a very self-conscious way, where a parade of dismal sight-gags and pop-culture references only seem to highlight the insecurity of its adapting authors.
But Tim Rice was only about 26 years old when he wrote the lyrics, lyrics that may be generously described as extemporaneous, while Andrew Lloyd Webber was about 21 when he knocked out a bunch of second-rate TV jingle music for the score. And poor old God (age unknown) will have to sue, because he didn't get any billing at all, or even score a single reference in the entire libretto, which he supposedly wrote himself.
Joseph is, in fact, a strangely anti-theological Bible story, where "any dream will do," and "you are what you feel," as Mr. Rice's desultory lyrics inform us. Later, Elvis Presley and a gaggle of Frenchmen and a kid on a razor scooter will all pass in review. But an agnostic approach may be understandable, as the British musical traces its origins back to the rebellious year of 1969 and the height of the Vietnam War. It was also in the wake of the civil rights movement in the U.S., and just a year after a violence-marred Democratic convention in Chicago, which followed upon a couple of very startling assassinations (also in 1968). In those days God himself seemed to be playing hooky.
As a gym-sculpted Joseph, Jeff Sears seems utterly focused on being unfocused in the role: his Joseph is consistently startled by the wickedness of the world, at every plot point. And as much as I dislike nearly every song in the show, I very much liked his "Close Every Door." Kirsten Scott is alongside as the Narrator, pitching-in like a fearless dynamo, smiling and curtsying and winking at the audience like Dainty June, and I can only hope she gets to drink and cuss and smoke a whole lot afterward, to satisfy the first law of thermodynamics.
Of course, Steve Isom is fine as a stately, older Jacob, the father of Joseph and his brothers, and all of Joseph's siblings are sharp as lasers in their many pastiche song-and-dance routines. And (surprisingly) they even manage to create more-or-less distinct characters along the way. But it's impossible to single out any of the brothers for praise, as they all work perfectly together in an unbreakable comedy team. Many in the audience chuckled indulgently at their antics, and I'd be lying if I said they weren't extremely good at their jobs.
Likewise, there's also a sultan's harem of delightful, intensely talented young women, singer/dancers in all sorts of get-ups. There are head-scratchingly anachronistic Jamaican tunes, and lots and lots of cheesy disco numbers, which extend all the way through a curtain call that drags on for five minutes, to pad out the show whose two acts weigh in at only about 45 minutes apiece. Unaccountably, in the finale, the men are put into silky business suits and (I'm straining to remember now) the women find themselves in some kind of 1980s disco dresses. I'm not sure, I'd sort of checked-out by then. Demographically it's a safe bet for Stages, though: a sort of post-modern Lawrence Welk take on Baby Boomer history.
Through July 2, 2017, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Rd. For more information visit www.stagesstlouis.org
The Cast (in order of appearance)
Reuben: Jeremiah Ginn*
Reuben's Wife: Molly Tynes*
Simeon: Colin Israel*
Simeon's Wife: Karilyn Ashley Surratt*
Levi: Brad Frennette*
Levi's Wife: Julia Johanos*
Napthali: Paul Aguirre*
Issachar: Erk Keiser*
Issachar's Wife: Liz Friedmann
Asher: Chris McNiff*
Asher's Wife: Dena DiGiacinto*
Dan: Hamilton Moore
Zebulun: Nic Thompson*
Gad: Drew Humphrey*
Judah: Jason Eno*
Judah's Wife: Brittany Rose Hammond*
Benjamin: Kyle Ivey
Molly Carl, Grace Costello, Jacob Flekier, Hannah Haedike, Cole Hoefferle, Justin Nelson, Emma Resek, Jacob Scott*
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association