When Tuacahn did “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” three years ago, the mantra was: Why? Because We Can.
Additions don’t need to add to the story; they don’t even need to make sense. We’ve got this huge amphitheatre, and we’re going to use it, artistic integrity be damned! Extravagance is its own justification.
This time, the show has only gotten bigger, longer and more bloated. It is a full 135 minutes long, including intermission — as written, it’s about 105 minutes — and has completely new scenes and sketches interspersed with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s original score.
It is directed and choreographed by Derryl Yeager again, and many of 1999’s interpolations have been retained, with new ones added. Some have gotten bigger, too. In 1999, when Keith Weirich as Jacob flung a few handfuls of dirt on himself while mourning the loss of Joseph, it was funny. Therefore, the logic seems to be, won’t it be 10 times as funny if he throws 10 times as much dirt on himself now?
That’s the prevailing attitude: If you liked it THIS big, wait’ll you see it THIS big!
And maybe you will like it THIS big. Hidden somewhere beneath the camels, automobiles, “Sopranos” references and pre-taped commercial parodies, there are some quality performances. David Osmond is just fine as Joseph; Jenny Jordan Frogley’s pop-diva voice as the Narrator is wonderful; the aforementioned Weirich does superb triple-duty work as Jacob, Potiphar and the Pharaoh; Paul Johnson is supremely amusing as the flamboyantly French soloist in “Those Canaan Days.” The dancing — and there is much of it — is dazzling.
Someone realized that “Close Every Door” has references to “children of Israel,” and that Joseph’s plight parallels the struggles the Jews would face in the coming centuries. So in keeping with the sledgehammer-in-the-face method of expression, during this number, actual footage of Adolf Hitler and concentration camps is shown on the JumboTron, while the children’s chorus comes onstage dressed as Holocaust victims, singing “la la la la la la.” It is the single tackiest, most misguided attempt at poignancy I’ve seen all year, something akin to performing a baptism at a circus.
There are several such leaps where you can see how the free-association must have gone in someone’s head. One song is called “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” which makes you think of go-go dancers, which makes you think of “Laugh-In,” which makes you decide to include a 10-minute “Laugh-In” re-creation right there in the middle of the song (complete with a Clinton/Lewinsky joke, which was already old the LAST time Tuacahn did this show). The song where the brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites has a hip-hop feeling to it, so let’s bring three brothers to the front in full rap-artist regalia and write an entirely new, full-blown rap song for them to perform. Remember, if a handful of dirt is funny, a bucketful must be hysterical.
So is it a good production? That’s like asking whether the Hill Cumorah Pageant is a good production. It’s beside the point. It’s not a show anymore, with characters, feelings and stories; it’s a pageant. You go because you already know what it’s about, and you already know the songs. A first-timer would have a hard time following the story here, and he would almost certainly be at a loss to explain why the show is so popular. It is the simplicity that usually makes it work, and “simple” is the last thing to describe this incarnation of it. But those familiar with “Joseph” — and that might include all of Utah at this point — may find the variations enjoyable. Consider it the stage equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie — “The Scorpion King: The Musical,” if you will.
"Joseph" is pretty much review-proof in Utah, and especially at Tuacahn, where spectacle is often understood to be more important than story. It's easy to see how the temptation arises, though, with "Joseph" having such a slight story to begin with.
I wonder if they only have to pay 75 percent of the normal royalties, since that's how much of the show was written by Rice and Lloyd Webber, the other 25 percent being provided locally.