Conceived in 1969 as a 20-minute oratorio to be presented in an English public school, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is now considerably longer and flashier. Still, as the touring production starring Sam Harris demonstrates, the show is in many ways best suited to an amateur presentation.
When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Jesus Christ, Superstar” became a massive success, the writers dusted off their old script and in 1973 subjected it to the first of several expansions.
Today, it’s still touring under the aegis of Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company, now advertised as being the work of “the composer of ‘Cats’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ ”
Right. In the same way that “Grand Theft Auto” is “by the director of ‘Apollo 13.’ ” As amateurishly as “Joseph” is written — most of Rice’s lyrics are pure doggerel on the order of “it made the rest feel second-best”– the show has much charisma and considerable energy.
Both qualities are in ample supply in this production — enough so that most audience members are likely to be charmed by the show, no matter how shallow it might be on the printed page.
Likewise, fans of former “Star Search” champion Sam Harris will find plenty to like here, though he’s most effective when delivering a song as a belted cabaret number (as he does in the protracted encore segment); his enthusiastic surfer, constantly brushing his shoulder-length blonde locks from his face, is closer to Fabio or Kato Kaelin than to the biblical Joseph.
On the other hand, this lightweight Joseph doesn’t need to really suffer when sold into slavery by his brothers (jealous that Dad likes him best): The show is mainly a barrel of fun, despite its origin in the book of Genesis, and Harris is surrounded by plenty of talented actor-singers to convey distinct, flavorful character.
Lloyd Webber’s tunes range from mock-rock to faux-French cabaret, the most effective pastiche being the cartoon country weeper “One More Angel in Heaven,” sung by Reuben (Jim Ryan) and the rest of Joseph’s brothers.
The Pharaoh’s big number, delivered as an Elvis parody by John Ganun, would be even more effective if the song itself wasn’t so complicated, but the staging by director Steven Pimlott and choreographer Anthony van Laast and performance are top-notch.
Additional standout supporting performances are by Russell Leib as Potiphar, who buys Joseph as a slave, and Glenn Sneed as a butler who benefits from one of Joseph’s prophesies. The Narrator is a “supporting” performance by billing only; here, Kristine Fraelich is a real find, reminiscent of a younger Betty Buckley and a name to watch for in shows to come. The costumes cover as much territory as the music, mostly effective if not particularly flattering. The women are semi-nude in a couple of sequences (body stockings under pasties and g-strings, really) and Harris’ fans will find him in various stages of undress. But everybody looks best in the final, disco-styled encore –“Joseph Megamix”– where they wear white tights and tops.
The touring cast is augmented by two local children’s choral groups; the Intl. Peace Choir from Long Beach, and Universal City-based Rock Theatre. The multiethnic mass of kids — about 40 of ’em — combine to form an enchanting presence in their own right.