IBDB HOME PAGE
Return to Production

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (01/27/1982 - 09/04/1983)


 

New York Daily News: "'Joseph' is a youthful dream"

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" opened at the off-Broadway Entermedia Theater on November 18, 1981 and transferred to the Royale on January 27, 1982.

Before "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and "Evita," Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" as a 25-minute college frolic. Despite its intended early audience, the musical is by no means sophomoric, even though it crackles with the youthful energy one normally associates with the school-tie set. Expanded now to some 90 minutes, "Joseph" is an exuberant revel on the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers underscored by the perky dances and swift pacing of choreographer-director Tony Tanner.

In "Joseph" one can detect techniques Webber and Rice employed so successfully in the later "Superstar" and "Evita": a story told entirely through song; a score shaped from many genres and rhythms - country-western, rock, calypso, soft shoe, French chanson - to lend variety to both music and character; the use of a narrator to introduce and comment on the action.

Tanner, in addition, builds laughter with sudden surprises, choreography based on ancient Egyptian art and even circus devices. Right at the beginning, Joseph and his 11 brothers scramble out of a hovel just large enough to fit a dwarf, a variation on the old clowns-out-of-the-car bit. Pharoah buys the hero with a yard's worth of credit cards and couriers arrive breathlessly on scooters. Indeed, "Joseph" is much like a fairy tale seen through a Barnum and Bailey filter.

Joseph's story unfolds via narrator Laurie Beechman, who plays impishly and sings robustly. She reminds us that Joseph is Jacob's favorite, a fact which ruffles the the 11 other sons. When Jacob, innocently, lays a coat of many colors on his favorite, that cuts it with the brothers. They gang up on poor Joe and, after inhaling a few tokes from itinerant camel pedlars, sell him into slavery.

But, in the Webber-Rice version, it is difficult to work up any malice agains the brothers because they're just a bunch of pot-smoking buffoons who are, in the bargain, excellent song-and-dance men. How can you hiss a choral group who explains the missing Joseph with an ironic, disarming song titled "One More Angel in Heaven"? Come on, man, this is a musical about innocence triumphant.

Tanner has cast well. His performers, leads and chorus, bring an engaging fantasy to their roles. They sing, with soundman Tom Morse's able assistance, clearly and with strength, a crucial factor in a show which has no dialogue. Bill Hutton's Joseph captures the archetype young hero of yore: He's slim, handsome, pure, noble, intelligent, courageous, sly and all those other things God seemed to like in the old days. Beechman, in fez, pantaloons and boots, dashes about the stage singing with a sort of cheerleader abandon that reflects the boundless enthusiasm of rah-rah spirit. And Tom Carder, who understudied the Che Guevara role in "Evita" and played it well several times, stops the show when he whips off his Pharoah robes and becomes, in a wonderfully loony moment, Elvis Presley hyping Joseph to go ahead with his dream interpretations. David Ardao and Randon Lo shape a scheming and seductive Mr. and Mrs. Potiphar and Robert Hyman offers a witty lead voice as he and the brothers lament those good old times in Canaan.

But Tanner's prime achievement is the integration of music, singing and story with Judith Dolan's anciently modern costumes, Barry Arnold's truly colorful lighting on Karl Eigsti's flexible, inventive set and Tanner's own choreography. It's almost as seamless as Joseph's coat.

I wonder, however, if "Joseph" is not too innocent, too rockishly simplistic, for a stage that has welcomed "Sweeney Todd" and "Evita." To enjoy it, one must fade back into youth and see with eyes one hasn't used for a long time. If you can do it, "Joseph" should be a joy.


New York Daily News
11/19/1981

New York Post: "'Technicolor Dreamcoat' has faded"

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" opened at the off-Broadway Entermedia Theater on November 18, 1981 and transferred to the Royale on January 27, 1982.

A group of parents gathered together at St. Paul's School in London one winter afternoon in 1968 could scarcely have been aware that they were sitting in the shadow of history. They were. They were hearing the first public performance of a work by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

It was a brief 25-minute cantata called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Webber and Rice's later collaborations, Jesus Christ, Superstar and Evita were only just around the corner, the corner with the bank on it.

Joseph itself, always intended to be performed by schools and colleges, was eventually expanded and went commercial. A production by Frank Dunlop for his Young Vic Company was successful at the Edinburgh Festival and later became a hit in London's West End. Dunlop later gave the work its first American professional staging at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Last night, at the Entermedia Theater, Joseph, rainbow-hued dreamcoat at the ready, made its Manhattan debut. One would like to say sadly delayed debut, but on that I have doubts.

Lloyd Webber as a composer has a useful knack of combining various pop forms, chiefly rock oriented, with the otiose religiosity of liturgical music.

Yet Lloyd Webber can write tunes - notably so - and his music has a brash, swinging, self-congratulatory style of its own.

In Joseph, as in the later works, they use an operatic formula, with no book, everything being conveyed by songs. This, I think, was a first in the popular musical theater. The story of Joseph, his coat of many colors, and his adventures in Egypt closely follows the Biblical story, and uses a few soloists and a large chorus.

Lloyd Webber seems to be at his best when he is backed up with an extremely fancy staging - Tom O'Horgan's Broadway presentation of Superstar, Harold Prince's lovingly elaborate simplicities in Evita, or most spectacular of all Trevor Nunn's fantastic production of Lloyd Webber's latest London hit, Cats.

In this new Joseph, directed by Tony Tanner, a somewhat shabby element emerges. It looks as though it was done one the cheap. Tanner, who has also choreographed the show, has turned up with a few neat visual gags and some imaginatively danced choruses. Yet the original static nature of the work - it was not, after all, originally intended for the stage - remains a disadvantage.

Of the cast, Laurie Beechman as the Narrator, with an apple-faced grin and a belting voice, is outstanding. And Joseph's 11 brothers are a lively bunch. Tom Carder does an adequately brusque Presley imitation as the far-out Pharoah, but unfortunately there seems to be a gap where Joseph is meant to be. Bill Hutton has neither the voice, stage presence, or even innocence for the role.

This is the kind of show some people might find likable. I don't think I could actually find anyone who found it lovable.


New York Post
11/19/1981

New York Times: "Joseph and the Dreamcoat"

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" opened at the off-Broadway Entermedia Theater on November 18, 1981 and transferred to the Royale on January 27, 1982.

''Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'' was the first Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical to be produced - at St. Paul's Junior School in London in 1968 in a version that lasted 25 minutes. Since then, the show has been expanded, recorded, taped for television and staged in various cities of the world, including an engagement at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Last night ''Joseph'' received its professional Manhattan premiere at the Entermedia Theater in a production directed and choreographed by Tony Tanner. In contrast to the raucous version in Brooklyn in 1976, it proved to be a buoyant musicalization of an oft-told Old Testament tale. In the diversity and the tunefulness of the songs, it is also a harbinger of Lloyd Webber to come - from ''Jesus Christ Superstar'' to ''Evita'' to the current London hit ''Cats.'' The young, classically trained, popular composer is one of the most inventive artists in contemporary musical theater.

''Joseph'' has become a perennial at schools - for good reason. With its innocent and gently satiric attitude toward sacred material, it is decidedly a musical for young people, the sort of show that could serve as an introduction to the theater and also to Bible study. All singing, no talking, it is both a pop opera and a Sunday school pageant.

Scorned for his flamboyant coat - a present from his indulgent father -Joseph is driven from his home by his 11 jealous brothers. In Egypt, he is enlisted to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, and because of his wise prophecy, he is named economic adviser of the kingdom, saving the nation from recession. After needling his needy brothers and forcing them to grovel, he rewards them with fraternal affection and riches.

The composer and lyricist use the cautionary tale as a framework for parodies of various popular musical forms. Selling Joseph into slavery, the mean brothers link arms to sing a cowboy number, ''One More Angel in Heaven,'' which could have been gift-wrapped for Hank Williams. Depressed at the bleakness of their lean years, the brothers, wearing berets and feigning French accents, sing a song of poverty to a Jacques Brel beat.

Later they rejoice in their good fortune by singing, dancing and drumming a calypso. Pharaoh is a mirror image of Elvis, with a writhing song to match his ducktail and tight white suit. The show is proudly anachronistic, but unlike some other attempts at updating the Bible, such as the current ''Cotton Patch Gospel,'' it avoids the pitfall of whimsy.

In the last few seasons, Mr. Tanner has earned a reputation for working well with young performers in plays as well as musicals and he he has chosen his cast with an eye for freshness. Bill Hutton is appealingly Beach Boyish as Joseph. David Ardao has a Noel Coward crispness as the wealthy Potiphar and, as Pharaoh, Tom Carder is an oily, amusing Elvis. The role of the narrator is usually sung by a man, but in this production it is played by Laurie Beechman, an imp with an outsized voice. In a red fez and harem pants, she becomes both song leader and Joseph's companion, enriching the score with her own musicality.

The production has a small-scale opulence, with the set designer, Karl Eigsti, cleverly supplying everything from a mobile camel to a landscape of pyramids. Even with an unnecessary intermission, the evening still runs less than 90 minutes, which gives the company time to reprise the score as a finale. ''Joseph'' is a brief, felicitous amalgam of sweetness and piquancy.


New York Times
11/19/1981

  Back to Top