Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

There are some basic rules that, if followed, will make nearly any musical a success:

First, don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t be afraid to have your actors act goofy.

Second, have a large cast, and every now and then have them all onstage at once, dancing together.

Third, have lots of colorful costumes and neat set pieces.

Put ’em all together, and pow! You got yourself a show.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” being performed at Payson High School this weekend by the Payson Community Theatre, follows all these guidelines and the result is an astoundingly entertaining show. It’s a Bible story at its heart, and it stays pretty close to the Genesis account of Joseph and his coat of many colors — but piled on top of that inspiring and moving story is a show full of singing, dancing and light-hearted fun.

Much of the credit should rightfully go to the show’s authors. The lyrics are by Tim Rice (“Evita,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Chess”), the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” etc., etc., ad nauseum), and Webber, in particular, has never done better work. “Joseph” is one of his earlier musicals (it’s from 1969), and much of his music since then has been unimaginative and derivative, albeit catchy. The music in “Joseph” is fun just in its variety, featuring as it does about a half-dozen distinctly different genres. You can tell he and Rice had a blast writing it, with Rice tossing off rhymes like “All these things you saw in your pajamas/Are a long-range forecast for your farmers” (it rhymes better with an English accent).

There is no dialogue in this show; everything is sung, with two fantastic vocalists (Kristi Frei and Suanne Bowcut) narrating as necessary. In addition to the large cast of characters, there is a 40-member children’s choir that joins in often, adding more activity to the already-busy stage scene. Things fall from the sky, the whole cast dances, set pieces come on and off, the costumes change to match whatever the musical genre is — it’s a fast-moving, jolly show that rarely slows down.

And at 90 minutes, plus intermission, the show is short enough to keep the attention of most children, making it a great family activity. (I’ve seen shows that didn’t even get to intermission until 90 minutes had passed, let alone be finished in that time.)

There are a few minor gripes about the show — the dancing is at times unpolished, the potentially heart-warming reunion scene is handled superficially, and Joseph looks too much older than most of his brothers — but these are generally forgiven due to the sheer enthusiasm that flows from the cast. The faults strike your attention at first, but then you forget about them because of all the fun you’re having.

It is worth mentioning, though, that the skirts worn by both men and women are sometimes too short, with not enough underneath them. This is particularly the case with Joseph, who at times shows more of himself than perhaps he’d like to, and certainly more than those of us in the first few rows care to see. It’s embarrassing to mention, but it really is unsettling and should be fixed.

But altogether it’s a wonderful production. The message, hidden underneath all the unadulterated giddiness, is uplifting (it came from the Bible, after all), and the play is emotionally involving. If you find yourself in Payson this Labor Day weekend, stop in and see “Joseph.”

I saw this play ALONE -- no date, no friends, no nothin'. Good thing it was a fun show, or I probably would have driven my car into a ditch on the way home.

"Joseph," for some reason, is an extremely popular show in Utah. Some have reasoned that this is because famed Mormon Donny Osmond played the lead in the touring company a few years ago, but I don't think that explanation is sufficient. I guess it is a comparatively short, family-friendly, Bible-oriented show, which seems conducive to Utah culture. At any rate, another theater company was doing "Joseph" at the same time as Payson, and several more did it in 1998 and 1999; the fad finally waned in 2000.

A good two months after this review ran, the Daily Herald published a letter in response to it. I don't know if the letter had sat around the Herald office for a while, or if the author just didn't write it until now. At any rate, here it is. See if you can believe your eyes.

"Pick a little, talk a little. Pick a little, talk a little...." from Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" aptly applies to Eric D. Snider's review of Payson Community Theater's production, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

He wasted the space allotted to review the talented cast and directors. All that fine talk about the composers, but it takes a production company to bring it alive.

If there was an offensive problem with Joseph's short skirt [Boy, was there!], I think Snider should have spoken to Joseph immediately after the performance. He said it needed "to be fixed," but he chose to sensationalize it in his article a week later.

Snider definitely missed a great show. I know his body occupied a seat, but he overlooked or failed to mention the participating individuals who made it a huge success.

Thank you, Payson Community Theater, for choosing the outstanding directors who cast the best actors, singers, dancers, children's chorus, costumes, make-up, set design, artist, lighting and sound.

And thanks to the wonderful audiences.

Snider's review was the only thing that was superficial.

Dorothy Carrasco
Spanish Fork

I couldn't believe I was actually reading this. Hadn't I written a positive review of the show? What was this woman's deal?

A quick glance at the program for "Joseph" revealed that Joseph himself, he of the short skirt and toothy grin, was played by one Michael Carrasco. I am sure that Michael Carrasco is no relation to Dorothy Carrasco, who wrote this letter. I wrote the following letter back to her, in which I tried to be nice:

Dear Ms. Carrasco --

I read your letter in the Daily Herald regarding my review of "Joseph" a couple months ago. (I assume you wrote your letter in a more timely manner, and that the Herald just barely got around to printing it. Sometimes they get backed up!)

I have re-read my review, and I would like to quote a few parts of it to you:

"... an astoundingly entertaining show"
"... inspiring and moving show full of singing, dancing and light-hearted fun"
"... two fantastic vocalists (who are then mentioned by name)"
"... fast-moving, jolly show that rarely slows down"
"'... a great family activity'
"... a few minor gripes ... but these are generally forgiven due to the sheer enthusiasm that flows from the cast. The faults strike your attention at first, but then you forget all about them because of all the fun you're having."
"... altogether... a wonderful production"
"... emotionally involving"

I then end the review by encouraging people to go see it.

I am a little confused: What was it that made you decide this review was a negative one? Was it the few minor points I mentioned that were less than adequate? Did I not spend enough time, in your opinion, gushing on and on about how great the show was?

The nature of criticism (whether it's theater, films, music, or whatever) is that you must present the good with the bad. I don't go to a show LOOKING for bad things. I just keep my eyes open and see what sticks out at me.

Few works are perfect. In some instances, something is overall very good, and the critic hates to even bring up the few small things that were not all that great. When I am in that situation, as I was with "Joseph," I try to make it clear that the negative things are SMALL points -- that while they are worth mentioning because we ARE trying to give a balanced view, after all, they shouldn't stop anyone from going to see the show.

This is what I tried to convey with "Joseph." I said in the review that the few gripes were "minor," and that one would quickly forget them because they would lose themselves in the fun of the show.

I'm sorry if you feel I spent too much time discussing the background of the show. If I had not done that, the review would have been only about 12 inches long, instead of 22, which would have been even less free, positive publicity for the show.

It worries me that people in this area have become so accustomed to reading nothing but glowing, gushy, positive reviews -- even of shows that aren't that good -- that when a review mentions even small negative points, they fly off the handle and think the critic is being unfair. As if a theater critic has no right to mention negative things, because that's not what a review is for, or something like that.

Come on, this was a positive review! I would see the show again if I could! Did I not make this clear in my writing? Read it again and see!

Thank you for taking the time to write. Writers always appreciate any feedback they can get.

Even when it's dumb feedback.