Tuacahn’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is the largest production of “Joseph” you’ll ever see — but it’s SO big, it’s in danger of collapsing under its own weight.
In some ways, the large outdoor stage helps the show. A few jokes (including a comically large Pez dispenser) wouldn’t be physically possible elsewhere, and the Pharaoh’s house is genuinely impressive in its size and structure.
There’s also plenty of room for dancing, which is perhaps this production’s strongest asset. As choreographed by Derryl Yeager (who also directed), the large cast of dancers is talented and agile. Sometimes the dancing is very funny; sometimes, it’s just plain neat; it’s always well-performed.
In many ways, however, the large stage hurts the show. There is often too much going on at once, resulting in an audience that isn’t sure where it’s supposed to be looking — a fatal mistake for a comedy. For example, you’re liable to miss Rovin Jay’s great singing in “Benjamin Calypso” because you’re watching the cliff-divers in the background.
The show seems so intent on being the biggest, most dazzling production of “Joseph” you’ve ever seen that it forgets to just be GOOD. It’s not a show anymore so much as it is a pageant: It assumes you already know the story, the characters and the songs, and it tweaks nearly all of them.
There’s an extra rap number by three of the brothers, a “Stomp”-like percussion number, several extra children’s choir songs, live camels, a classic car — the list goes on. Some of these are fun, but some just make the show longer.
This production is a good half-hour longer than most “Josephs,” and the extra material is hit or miss. Pharaoh’s Elvis-impersonator scene is tedious, unfunny and seems as though it will never end, while the extended “Those Canaan Days” number, sung with magnificent Frenchness by Bill Surber and backed up by the brothers’ mock-ballet dancing, is a highlight of the show.
Nathan Balser is a great Joseph, with a fantastic tenor voice. Keith Weirich also stands out in his double role as a grief-stricken, dirt-flinging Jacob, and as a ’20s-style gangster Potiphar. The singing and dancing is top-notch throughout the cast.
It is rare in theater for bigger to really be better; the responsible parties here should have known that.
One of the fun things about having live camels in your show is that very frequently, one of them will ad-lib a bowel movement onstage. Such was the case the night I saw "Joseph," and it served as a sobering reminder of the dangers of working with animals in live theater. (Similar dangers, I am told, exist when working with children, which this show also had.)
(This was published with the two separate reviews of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" at Tuacahn for the benefit of people who could not see both. Tuacahn is near St. George, about four hours south of Provo, and while many people would like to see something in the magnificent amphitheater, it is not always feasible to see both shows. Ordinarily, of course, comparing two shows like this would be unfair. We felt that in this case, it would provide a valuable service for potential theater-goers.)
Both productions are well done, so try to see them both. But if the distance or cost limits you to just one, here's some guidance on which to choose.
Overall, "Seven Brides" is a better production. "Joseph" tries too hard to impress us with how big it is, while "Seven Brides" is more honest, straight-forward and consistent. "Joseph" wants to dazzle; "Seven Brides" wants to entertain.
That said, "Joseph" generally DOES dazzle. If you've got kids in tow, "Joseph" is definitely the show for you. It's shorter than "Seven Brides," and has more candy for the eyes and ears (unless your kids are impressed with great dancing, which "Seven Brides" is chock-full of).
If you've never seen "Joseph," this is not a good one to start with. It seems determined to stand apart from other productions, but if you've never seen other productions, this one may seem disjointed and non-cohesive, like a series of unrelated skits and songs strung together with a narrator.
If you have seen "Joseph" before, this one compares favorably in terms of sheer talent. The cast is wonderful, and a live orchestra is used (increasingly rare for this show). You've probably seen productions that are funnier, but this one wins points for its size and spectacle. It is fun to see this and compare it to other "Josephs," and especially to note all the new bits that have been added. If you've never seen "Joseph," the new stuff will just seem out of place with the rest of the show.
If you've seen both shows a few times (seeing the "Seven Brides" movie counts), or if you're the type of person who goes to the theater a lot, "Seven Brides" is the better choice. Both shows indulge in some "we're doing this just because we can" staging, but there's far less of that sort of gimmickry in "Seven Brides."