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St. Louis by Sarah Boslaugh

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Also see Bob's review of The Full Monty

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, playing this week at the St. Louis Muny, wants so badly to be liked that you'd almost have to have a heart of stone to spurn it. It's the ultimate lightweight in the modern musical repertory, still showing traces of its origins as 20-minute school cantata, but this very simplicity (some might say insubstantiality) is a big part of its appeal.

Because the Biblical story of Joseph is so well known (and lyricist Tim Rice helpfully provided a narrator for the dimmer bulbs in the audience), and because the music is so simple, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat presents almost a tabula rasa onto which directors and designers may project their wildest fancies. It's a tradition that the scenic design and costumes be outrageous and ahistorical, and the Muny team comes through with flying colors, if you can pardon the pun. Scenic Designer Steve Gilliam created an Egypt which puts Donald Trump's Taj Mahal casino to shame: it actually makes the enormous Muny stage seem crowded. And I mean that in the nicest way, as in "stuffed full of visual delights," with the youth ensemble in bleachers on both sides of the stage, a glittering temple facade complete with rotating Sphinx (the better to enable Pharaoh 's transformation into Elvis Presley) in the middle, and a gold chariot to present the triumphal Joseph.

The costumes by Robert Fletcher hold their own in the high camp department. In fact, they are almost too numerous to name, but include a silk camisole, white blazer and black dress pants for the Narrator; harem pants, sashes and muscle shirts for Jacob's sons (accessorized at times by cowboy hats, berets and rainbow-hued puffy-sleeved Ricky Ricardo shirts); pastel t-shirts and khakis for the youth ensemble; a purple flapper costume for Potiphar's wife; and dark Bedouin-influenced costumes for Jacob's wives, who liven their dancing with a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon routine.

Ah yes, the music. The score of Joseph shows Lloyd Webber at his best and his worst simultaneously, as it consists of a series of pastiche songs which are surprisingly effective in context and have the unfortunate tendency to become earworms which bore into your brain and refuse to leave. Two became popular hits: "Any Dream Will Do" and "Close Every Door." Other memorable tunes from this show include the country-and-western "One More Angel in Heaven," the Jacques Brel parody "Those Canaan Days," and the rockabilly "Song of the King."

Of course, part of the continuing appeal of Joseph is its educational value: kids can learn about Biblical history and pick up important life lessons at the same time. Here are a few of the latter I have extracted:

  • Parents: don't be too obvious about playing favorites among your children.
  • Kids: if you are the favorite, don't rub it in, no matter how many dreams you have had about sheaves and stars bowing down to you.
  • Grownups: phony sincerity, particularly from your family, can look remarkably like the real thing.
  • Everybody: if you want to get rid of somebody, do it yourself and finish the job. (Oops, maybe that last message is not appropriate for a family show).

The Muny cast is strong, led by Liz Callaway as the Narrator, who not only commands the stage but also saved the day in one of those moments you only get in live, electronically enhanced, theater. Joseph's body mike kicked out just before the first rendition of "Close Every Door," but Liz came back on stage and with great aplomb (and to appreciative applause) gave him a handheld mike so he could sing the song, get out of prison, and finish the first act. Eric Kunze is a capable Joseph, also known as the Donny Osmond role, and takes full advantage of the opportunity to show off both his strong tenor voice and his well-toned pecs. The other roles are well performed as well, including David Hibbard as Pharaoh and James Anthony as Jacob and Potiphar.

Everyone knows that Andrew Lloyd Webber is The Man Who Killed Broadway, although that fabulous invalid has somehow managed to survive both his heyday and his current decline. However, whatever ill will you may harbor toward Lloyd Webber for either his hits (Cats, Phantom of the Opera) or his flops (Sunset Boulevard, Jeeves), it's not fair to judge Joseph by his ponderous later works. It's no more and no less than a pleasant little show and just the thing for a warm summer evening in Forest Park.

The Pajama Game will be playing at the Muny in Saint Louis through August 5. Ticket information is available from the Muny ticket office in Forest Park, and from MetroTix at 314-534-1111, metrotix.com or any MetroTix location. The next production at the Muny will be Les Miserables, which will be presented August 6-15.

Cast
Narrator: Liz Callaway
Joseph: Eric Kunze
Jacob/Potiphar: James Anthony
Pharaoh : David Hibbard
Reuben: Matt Bailey
Simeon: Aaron Kaburick
Levi: Mike McGowan
Napthali: Nathan Madden
Issachar: Anderson Davis
Asher: Cary Tedder
Dan: Liam Rhodes
Zebulon: Billy Harrigan Tighe
Gad: Ted Ely
Benjamin: Will Burton
Judah: Justin Keyes
Mrs. Potiphar: Daryl Getman
Butler: Ted Ely
Baker: Aaron Kaburick
Reuben's Wife: Sydney Laine Morton

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber Lyrics: Tim Rice
Direction and Musical Staging: Pamela Hunt
Choreography: Darren Lee
Dance Captain: Daryl Getman
Scenic Design: Steve Gilliam
Lighting Design: David Lander
Musical Direction: Michael Horsley
Sound Design: Jason Krueger
Costume Design: Robert Fletcher
Production Stage Manager: Peter Hynds

Reviewed by Sarah Boslaugh


-- Sarah Boslaugh

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