Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Tim Rice,
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Watertown, MA) I grew up believing Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice represented the theatrical establishment to overthrow. They wrote the stuff that mediocre crooners sang on cheesy records sold to bored housewives. They cursedly created the material for the medley that my 7th grade choir was forced to sing, filled with needless trills and fills. And I hated singing music from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat worst of all, with its inane and childlike number, “Any Dream Will
So imagine my surprise when I develop a crush with F.U.D.G.E Theatre’s wonderful little production of Joseph at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown. Using a stripped-down set and a small cast, Director Joe DeMita has cut through the layers of grandiosity heaped upon this play since it first
opened more than a century ago to discover a simple Bible story told with flare and imagination. This production has a young heart, but it also has a deep understanding of the material. The combination is like watching the Peanuts character Linus lisp through the Nativity Story, pure magic.
When told wrong, Bible stories seem designed to make head meet desk for countless Sunday-school children, but there is a wry, almost Woody Allen-esque humor to the tales. This is what DeMita’s cast digs down to find in Joseph. This Old Testament yarn is one of those strange stories we encounter throughout history, Biblical or otherwise, where the personal and political intersect to change the course of humanity. It is a simple fable of 12 brothers, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. 11 of the brothers grow jealous of Joseph, a smart know-it-all who lacks tact. Things come to a head when Joseph’s father, apparently never having read the Solomon-like parenting advice found in the pages of I Love You the Purplest, gives him one heck of a coat. The brothers rip the coat off Joseph’s back, beat him up, and eventually sell him into slavery. But in Egypt, Joseph finally either learns how to work the system of he gets put into the right place at the right time; either way, he eventually captures the ear of the Pharaoh. Heartwarming hilarity ensues, at least what passes for biblical heartwarming hilarity, when the brothers turn up in Egypt, looking for a handout.
The ensemble and the production clearly have some flaws. Microphones are desperately needed, for example, as whole songs become illegible because of volume issues. Also, vocal range sometimes is in short supply, so I wouldn’t expect any As-Seen-On-T.V. records coming out any time soon. But what the cast does have going for it is 100 percent commitment to the tone DeMita created. It isn’t an easy tone to pull off; picture the surprisingly beautiful lovechild that would be produced from a union between the cast of Rent and the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland . Almost every actor takes on his or her multiple parts with a sense of wonder and spontaneity, reminding lucky theatergoers of the magic that must have occurred on stage in an era when Mr. Lloyd Weber was the insurgent,
instead of the establishment.