Sharp, tuned in, hip: These aren’t adjectives you expect to see applied to a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 musical warhorse, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But they fit the BDT Stage version directed by Matthew D. Peters to a T.
Joseph tells the biblical story of a young fellow whose father favors him above his eleven brothers and gives him a glowing, rainbow-colored cloak to prove it. It doesn’t help that Joseph has a habit of telling these brothers his dreams, all of which indicate that they will eventually find themselves bowing down before him. In fact, the brothers first plot to kill him, then abandon that idea and toss him into a deep ditch, and eventually — spotting some passing Egyptians — sell him as a slave. Once in Egypt, Joseph runs into trouble and is thrown into prison, but his ability to interpret dreams comes in handy when the Pharaoh needs help untangling a particularly disturbing dream of his own. After that, he’s elevated to a position of great power. A famine follows, and his brothers — who’ve been regretting their treatment of him — come to Egypt, hungry and desperate, to beg for help. They don’t recognize their youngest sibling in the important figure who stands before them; despite all and after a little finagling, Joseph forgives them. Everyone rejoices.
The plot serves primarily as a thread on which to hang a sequence of lively, tuneful numbers — Joseph is far funnier and less ponderous than later Webber-Rice creations — and the musical styles range from cowboy to soft rock, throaty French ballad and even calypso. Pharaoh, played by Scott Severtson, does a spot-on Elvis impersonation.
There are lots of pleasures here: Tracy Warren’s charm and lovely voice as the Narrator; Wayne Kennedy’s humorous portrayal of Joseph’s father, Jacob; and a cohort of adorable children who listen to the Narrator’s story wide-eyed and sometimes move into the audience to spread the excitement. The performers playing the brothers are all different, lively and interesting; none of them seems a generic musical-comedy type. Jack Barton’s Joseph comes across like a good-natured college kid, light on his feet, resilient and unself-pitying through his various tribulations, fun to watch and with a strong, pleasing voice. Neal Dunfee’s small orchestra performs with its customary verve, energy and bounce. (Unfortunately, the sound level is a touch high.)
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But none of these are what make this Joseph a must-see. And believe me, it is. The production is stylish, visually brilliant, inventive and full of witty touches big and small, and places dancing front and center. Peters has assembled some of the strongest dancers I’ve seen in musical theater around here, including a trio of elegant beauties — Tracey Dennig, Chelsea Hester and Danielle Scheib — who front many of the numbers. The choreography is slick and clever, and everyone’s dancing is tight, tight, tight — no small feat when the moves are difficult, the action continuous and the stage full of moving bodies.
I’ve admired Linda Morken’s costumes for years, but here she surpasses herself. There are no white robes and vaguely Egyptian-looking gold ornaments; rather, from the Narrator’s sparkly tops and beautifully fitting pants to the various outfits of the men in the ensemble — someone who looks as if he’d just walked out of West Side Story, complete with rolled-up jeans and one shoulder strangely and seductively bared — every costume is a joke and a delight, and every change gives you something to grin at. Everything comes together in the lighting, music, set and costumes: the stack of lighted steps whose changing colors echo those in Joseph’s gorgeous coat; the dazzling moment when the entire cast steps forward arrayed in silver-white suits as if they were about to sing “One Singular Sensation” from A Chorus Line; the joyfully protracted finale that recaps every number.
The company’s members have transformed a rather squishy and sentimental musical into something swift and contemporary. They don’t go all Hallmark, with Joseph as a wistful dreamer. They don’t indulge in a bunch of irrelevant gags. Instead, they strut their stuff. They’re stylin’, profilin’ and buckwilin’. And they are gorgeous.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, presented by BDT Stage through August 19, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, bdtstage.com.