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REVIEW: Joseph an Entertaining and Fast Two Hours (Orpheum Theatre)

J.C. McCann as Joseph and the tour cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in “Joseph’s Coat”. Photo by Daniel A. Swalec.

Before the fame of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborated on the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was made into a concept album in 1969. This musical was initially overshadowed by the popularity of their musicals Evita and Superstar, but it has proven to be the most durable of the duo’s musicals; it is commercially produced on a regular basis and is also a school and community theatre favorite. The latest touring show to land at the Orpheum Theatre shows the direction and choreography of Tony Award winning Andy Blankenbuehler. It also demonstrates that Joseph continues to entertain without any noticeable appearance of aging.

The cast of the Second National Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in "Jacob and Sons." Photo by Daniel A. Swalec.
The cast of the Second National Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in “Jacob and Sons.” Photo by Daniel A. Swalec.

The musical is in a sung-through format with no spoken dialog. It is based upon the Biblical story of sibling rivalry involving Joseph and his 11 brothers (Genesis 37:1–50.26). Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and when Jacob elevated Joseph’s status by bestowing upon Joseph a multi-colored coat, his brothers’ jealousy and envy leads to their seizing Joseph and selling him as a slave to traveling “Ishmaelites.” But Joseph has a knack of turning adversity into opportunity. Despite a major setback that lands him in prison, he uses his ability to interpret dreams to become the second-in-command to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Eventually, the very brothers who betrayed him come to him seeking food in time of famine and Joseph uses this opportunity for some payback. But not to fret, the show ends on a note of reconciliation.

I have seen various productions over the years in the Twin Cities, including a local professional production with my daughter in the show’s children’s choir, but this is the first time I have seen a touring company perform it. It was an amazing show. J.C. McCann (the titular Joseph) is a delight with his exceptional singing voice and mugging mannerisms. The highlight of his performance was his solo on the ballad “Close Every Door.” Laura Helm (in the pivotal role of the Narrator) also did a great job with both her singing and facial expressions. The brothers’ song “Those Canaan Days” was done with a wonderful campiness that made this scene much more entertaining than it has been in other renditions of the show that I have seen. There was also some impressive dancing on stage.

Some of the other performers were not as strong and I was disappointed with the lackluster Elvis impersonation by Joe Ventricelli as the Pharaoh. There is not much in the way of sets, with a projection screen and lighting being largely used as a substitute. There was also too much emphasis on whiteness in certain scenes. Given the use of “color” in the title of the show, it’s a little disappointing that there were at least two scenes where both the performers and the lighting were in plain, stark white. The monotone white was especially distressing in the musical number of “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” where the performers just seemed to just keep reprising the song with no added color, costumes, or varied movements to make it otherwise interesting. The show did better at the end with the “Joseph Megamix” number where, although the company was all in white, the great variety in the color lighting gave the number a sense of movement.

Despite the show’s flaws, the Broadway tour of Joseph is a fun show to watch and it flowed so smoothly that it was the fastest two hours I have spent in a theatre in a long time.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays at the Orpheum Theatre through April 3.

Bev Wolfe