When I was in seventh grade, my chorus class took a charter bus up to Chicago to see Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. From a row near the back of the theatre, I watched the vibrant speck that was Donnie Osmond belt out the tunes "Close Every Door" and "Joseph's Coat." On the return trip home, while the chaperone mothers murmured in fascination over the dark-haired leading man, we chorus students amused ourselves with a Joseph sing-along. The music was just that unforgettable and appealing, even to our usually unimpressionable teenage minds.
In a kind of nostalgic trip for me, Circa '21 has just started a 12-week run of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway hit, and though the charming Mormon doesn't grace the Quad Cities stage, everything about this show is exciting - from the music to the costumes to the choreography. Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is easily the most enjoyable show I've ever seen at Circa.
The show begins with a narrator (flawlessly played by Heather Beirne) telling a large group of children that they should each have a dream, regardless of what it is, and should hold on to that dream under all circumstances. This leads into the Bible story of Jacob and his 12 sons, the favorite being the dreamer Joseph, who reminds Jacob of his deceased wife. The brothers are not so fond of their blond sibling, who is constantly dreaming about 11 sheaves of corn or the moon and stars bowing down to him. And when Jacob gives Joseph a beautiful multi-colored coat, the brothers are incensed enough to take violent action. They stain the lovely coat in goat's blood and sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt, beginning his rise to fame as a dream-interpreter in the pharaoh's land.
But this is not just a Bible story, nor does it preach religion or belief in God. Instead, Webber has smartly made Joseph appeal to all types of audiences by giving it a universal moral, that any dream is good enough, as long as the dreamer believes it can come true someday.
Webber and lyricist Tim Rice made other brilliant choices when writing Joseph: It's incredibly fast-paced (clocking in under 90 minutes), includes many upbeat and popular music styles (from Elvis to calypso to country-western), and because it uses the device of a narrator, productions can have fun playing with the storytelling elements, including costumes.
In this staging, Heather Beirne and Jonathan Goodman blew the house away. The narrator's part is difficult because it requires a voice able to easily traipse along both extremes of the musical scale. (Believe me, I've tried in the shower; it's tough.) Though often overshadowed by the title part and the more lively roles of the brothers, the narrator is almost constantly on-stage and singing; the role needs a thankless perfection that Beirne certainly achieved.
And Goodman as Joseph was a golden-haired sensation and a natural in the spotlight. His emotional "Close Every Door" was stunning, and he worked well with the children's chorus during "Any Dream Will Do." Local favorite Tom Walljasper's Elvis had some convincing hip-twitches, and Reader movie reviewer Mike Schulz shined with "Calypso Ben." I can't think of a character I didn't like, and everyone positively contributed to the production, especially during ensemble pieces such as "Go, Go, Go Joseph!" and "Jacob & Sons/Joseph's Coat."
Costuming was mostly good, with the exception of the narrator's long black boots, pants, and vest paired with some kind of pirate-looking poofy shirt (similar to the one in the episode of Seinfeld). Joseph's coat is as vibrant as a stained glass window. Other favorites were the brothers' Converse All-Star high tops, Potiphar's sock garters and cigar, and the backup girls' shiny Egyptian hair wigs.
The production did have a few weak spots. While the children's chorus is a must, especially for call-and-repeat songs such as "Any Dream Will Do," I had a hard time hearing the youngsters. And while I liked the choice to dress the brothers in colorful overalls, I thought the sewed-on letters indicating their first names (e.g., "G" for Gad) seemed childish; after all, these are grown men.
Only one moment threw me off-guard, and that was Jacob's strained off-stage cry after the brothers convinced the old man that his favorite son was dead. The crying is part of the show, but it seemed the actor wanted to draw a laugh, giving an inappropriate moose-dying wail, which drew me out of any possible emotion I could have been feeling for the poor father.
Still, all ages will enjoy Joseph. It's fun, enlightening, sometimes sexy, cute, hilarious, and pretty much the best show this side of the Nile.