Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," at Provo Theatre Company
by Eric D. Snider
Published on June 21, 1998
Provo Theatre Company's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is one of about 1,000 such productions happening in Utah this year, so they want it to be different.
"Different?" you say. "How can you make 'Joseph' different?" Indeed, it's not like the show has a tremendous amount of character depth or serious themes that one production can draw out more than another. What are they going to do, focus on the internal struggles of Isaachar? Help the audience see the true feelings of Gad?
What PTC has done is turn "Joseph" into a sort of pop-culture free-for-all, with jokes and joke-like bits strewn throughout the show. Joseph brags that his coat is from fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger; the Ishmaelites are dressed as I-15 construction workers; when Pharaoh is referred to as being "right-wing," a picture of Rush Limbaugh is held up; when the brothers come to beg for food, Joseph says, a la "Seinfeld," "No soup for you!" Oh, and there's a "Titanic" reference. (Of COURSE there's a "Titanic" reference. How could there not be?)
These modifications are unlikely to upset anyone. "Joseph" already takes some serious liberties with the Bible story it's based on; so why not take liberties with "Joseph"? Composer and lyricist Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice intended for it to be a fun, zany show, and PTC director Charles Lynn Frost is merely taking that philosophy and updating it.
There are also some modern-day characters thrown in for extra laughs. In some cases, this works; in others, it doesn't.
A case where it is genuinely funny is when the back-up singers come on dressed like the Spice Girls. At first this addition seems superfluous, until a few lines from a Spice Girls song are thrown in, blending in perfectly with the existing musical score. It winds up being funny simply because they don't make a big issue of it. The show lets us be amused by it without hitting us over the head and saying, "Hey, look! It's the Spice Girls! Isn't that funny?!"
The other additional characters don't work precisely because we ARE hit over the head with them. The Butler, in jail with Joseph, is played like Austin Powers, from last year's hit film "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." This is an entirely irrelevant, Road Show-esque change. I imagine Troy Williams, who plays the Butler in this show, began doing his Austin Powers impression at a rehearsal, and Frost told him to play the Butler that way -- never mind that his Austin Powers impression isn't even very GOOD.
The other one is the Baker, also imprisoned with Joseph. Now the Baker is a woman -- specifically, Linda Richman, from the "Coffee Talk" sketches on "Saturday Night Live" six years ago. Brice Hawks does a good enough job impersonating this character -- but it's not his character. It was Mike Myers' character on "SNL" (come to think of it, Austin Powers was played by Mike Myers, too -- what's going on here?), and it was funny when HE did it. Having Hawks play the Baker as Linda Richman is, again, superfluous and not really funny. We've heard the "I'm getting verklempt" jokes before. On "SNL." Six years ago.
Cory Bench is appropriately handsome, tan and toothy as Joseph, and he has a singing voice that is strong, even, and carries the show well.
Even better is the Narrator, played by Lisa Weight, who belts out everything she sings with gusto and finesse. Being detached from the goofiness of the action, Weight plays the Narrator with a great deal of class and dignity.
Other principals include Marc Haddock as a robust Jacob (a refreshing change from the bearded-and-old Jacobs we usually see), and Stephen Briggs as the Elvis-like Pharaoh.
The brothers are all played with energy and vigor, many of them excellent singers and dancers, and the cast does its best to dance around on that tiny PTC stage. Sometimes the choreography is awkward because of the limited space, but there are other times when it works well and is indeed impressive.
The whole show is kind of like that, in fact. Some things work really well and are inventive and funny -- Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar's strobe-light chase scene is original, as is having Joseph read books like "Prison for Dummies" and "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Jailbirds" while in jail -- and other things just don't work at all.
It seems that in an attempt to be something other than your run-of-the-mill production of "Joseph," this one goes a bit overboard, adding more things and making more changes than are really necessary. (Like why is "Those Canaan Days" played as Jewish instead of French? It's not any funnier that way -- just different.)
Provo Theatre Company's shows are always excellent, and this one is only slightly below the theater's reputation. It's meant to be a crowd-pleaser, and the opening night crowd was certainly pleased, so in that regard it fulfills its mission.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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