The biblical story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, has never been an obvious choice for light musical theater. After all, Joseph is accused of attempted rape. He's imprisoned for years. His brothers nearly succumb to famine, leading their aged father to believe a goat killed his beloved son.
But there is this dazzling coat, see?
And in the hands of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, that coat (so many colors!) is enough to transform this tale of deceit, famine and false imprisonment into Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the campy, all-you-can-eat musical confection that opened last week at the Fox Theatre.
Written by Webber and Rice in the late 1960s, Joseph is an oddball musical if ever there was one. First, there's the plot, which tells the story of Joseph, Jacob's sharp-dressing son who is imprisoned as a slave in Egypt. While incarcerated, he interprets the dreams of a fellow inmate, who later tells Pharaoh of Joseph's oneiric skills when the leader's dreams stump his in-house talent. Joe correctly interprets Pharaoh's dream. Egypt avoids famine, and Joseph becomes Pharaoh's right-hand man. When his brothers arrive in Egypt (now miserable from drought), Joseph tests their loyalty, imprisoning them before revealing his true identity and re-embracing his penitent siblings.
Everyone's happy by final curtain, but it sure takes some dark travel to get there, and one of Joseph's greatest features has always been the strange disconnect that arises from its bubbly treatment of such grim subject matter. In the world of Joseph, Pharaoh shakes his hips like Elvis, Joe's brothers croon like cowpokes who've lost a birddog, and we're treated to cool-running rhythms as his brothers plead in Egypt.
In other words, as long as the voices are strong and the cast brings a little swagger, Joseph is a show that's hard not to like. And by that measure, the production now playing at the Fox succeeds.
Starring in the role of Joseph, American Idol alumn Ace Young may not have the richest voice in town. But he's more than serviceable in the role, bringing a wide, affable smile, a buff bod and an athletic, if not exactly graceful, energy to the stage. Playing opposite Young is fellow Idol veteran (and Young's spouse) Diana DeGarmo, a cheerful presence in the role of the narrator who finds many nice notes in the upper register.
Directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, this Joseph boasts satisfactory renditions of some of the show's best numbers, including a very good "Benjamin Calypso," with Will Mann in the role of Judah, and a terrific, marvelously choreographed "Those Canaan Days," with William Thomas Evans as Jacob and Paul Castree as Simeon. Howell Binkley's lighting design is another highlight, often projecting moving images on scrims and characters' costumes (designed by Jennifer Caprio) to effectively show dream and travel sequences.
This may not be a Joseph for the ages, but for a fun night out? Lord knows it's hard to go wrong.