Growing up, there are certain stories from the Bible that everyone learns, regardless of the amount of time you spent in a Church. We all know about Noah riding in his boat with all the cute animals (and apparently fighting Anthony Hopkins, if Darren Aronofsky’s movie adaptation is to be believed), or Daniel in the lion’s den (I learned that one from a VeggieTales VHS the neighbors gave us). However, the versions of the stories we get as kids are usually edited for content. Most of the cardboard picture books don’t mention that the reason Noah had to build an ark and hang out with bunnies and kitties was because mankind had become so violent and corrupt that God decided to wipe them all out – and we can generally agree that it’s ok to wait for a kid to reach kindergarden before discussing the depravity of man. And just like our parents decided the nursery wasn’t the best place to discuss these heavy topics, commercial dream-team Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice felt that musical theater was better suited for a bright, shiny, upbeat interpretation of the story of Joseph – the son of Jacob who is given a colorful coat by his father, sold into slavery by his brothers, and eventually finds his way out of trouble with an ability to interpret dreams. And that’s exactly what we get in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which runs through Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
While the major billing for the show is married American Idol stars Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, Joseph rarely features fewer than a handful of singers at a time, substituting spectacle for story and excitement for intimacy. And while the show lacks any real emotional resonance, the infectious energy of the production put smiles on every face in the house. Borrowing every style from country to disco, Joseph never pauses for a chance to grow stale, leaping from one musical number to the next, with DeGarmo serving as a narrator to fill in any informational gaps for those audience members concerned with things like story or development. But with all the hammy humor, peppy music and technicolor costumes, there isn’t much need for a heavy story to slow things down – it would only get in the way of all the fun.
Though the first act of the show has to deal with the unpleasantness of Joseph being beaten and sold into slavery by his own brothers, once the show makes it to the decadent land of Egypt (apparently the Las Vegas of the ancient world), the shining glamour and excess takes over in a crowd-pleasing string of lively musical numbers. Of particular note is the introduction of Pharaoh, an Elvis impersonator that would make Myrtle Beach jealous, as well as “Those Canaan Days,” a number featuring the eleven remaining brothers in a funny and well-choreographed French-style ballad. What do these styles have in common, you might ask? Absolutely nothing, but that’s not really the point of Joseph. The crowd in DPAC was far too busy cheering, laughing, and goading the actors on to worry about something like that.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was the first collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, a pair that has made millions on their musicals (despite a fair share of criticism). First written as a 15-minute cantata for a London school, then made into a concept album before finally becoming a successful stage musical, Joseph has become a staple production for everything from amateur theater to school plays to national tours like this. And despite the incredible energy and fun of the show, the music does seldom stretch beyond elementary composition, with lyrics that often sound like a page from a grade school textbook on learning to rhyme. But of course, Joseph never strives to be a master class in music; it is simply a well-known story told for a fun night out – which is exactly what you get.