After more than ten years, the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis has brought back Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for a short run (March 29 – April 3).
Joseph tells the familiar Bible story of Jacob and his 12 sons. Jacob gifts his favorite son Joseph (JC McCann) with a lovely new (Technicolor!) coat. This plus Joseph’s gift as an interpreter of dreams causes his 11 brothers to jealously devise a plan to get rid of him. They sell him to traveling nomads, who take him to Egypt where he becomes a slave of Potiphar, a wealthy Egyptian (“…made my money selling pyramids!”). Potiphar’s wife sets her eyes on the lovely Joseph and her pursuit causes Potiphar to have him thrown in jail. Eventually the Pharaoh calls on Joseph to help him interpret some disturbing dreams he has been having. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s number one advisor and helps guide Egypt through seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. And eventually Joseph is reunited with his family.
The story is told through song with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The music includes a mix of song styles that at times borders on the ridiculous. One of my favorite scenes has Pharaoh (Joe Ventricelli) bringing out his inner Elvis Presley, asking Joseph to help him understand his dreams. There is also a calypso song and dance, a Western number, and a French ballad. The action moves fast, the dancing is energetic, the costumes are colorful, and the one-line jokes are liberally interspersed throughout the songs. Leading the cast is the narrator (Laura Helm) who freely moves through the production, interacting with the rest of the cast. Helm is clearly the centerpiece of the show. Her voice and on-stage personality are perfect for this role. McCann portrays a wide-range of emotions as he takes Joseph from favorite son, to slave, to powerful leader, using humor when appropriate and a strong voice. Helm and McCann match their voices often, most powerfully in the song “Any Dream Will Do.”
I have seen Joseph numerous times, ranging from my first time at the Orpheum with Donny Osmond in the starring role to many local productions. While remaining consistent with the music, each show varies in the choice of costuming, lighting, staging and humorous touches.
Under the guidance of director and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, this production at the Orpheum is the most updated of any that I have seen. The overture is accompanied by Joseph and the ensemble moving back in time from the present (think computers and cell phones) to ancient Egypt. In addition to a liberal use of video graphics and projections designed by Daniel Brodiethere there is a healthy dose of fist pumps and hip-hop dance moves in the choreography. The production number “Those Canaan Days” includes the use of tin plates and forks as the brothers line up to eat their very last sheep. Eventually plates are sliding down the table and flying through the air. This has always been my least favorite number in the show but the current choreography is very entertaining, ending in a prolonged extracted applause, which was very happily delivered by the appreciative audience. Interestingly, Blankenbuehler also choreographed Hamilton, currently the hardest ticket to get on Broadway.
Although I have to say this is not the favorite staging of Joseph that I have seen, it is still fun, fast-moving and very entertaining. If this is your first time or your tenth, I am pretty sure it won’t be your last.
Photo by Daniel A. Swalec, courtesy Hennepin Theatre Trust