I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Absolutely the most enjoyable show of the year!" I first saw Donny don his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, at the Elgin Theatre in 1992. That was the North American premiere of Joseph in its current guise, and since then Mr Osmond has paraded his diaper and parti-colored robe for five years across the continent, breaking box office and attendance records at every stop. His recording of the Joseph soundtrack with the original Canadian company has gone quadruple platinum, plus one more we bought last night. It's probably the most energetic performance you will ever see, and one that has lost none of its vitality or appeal in half a decade.
Five years. Our new seatmate companions for this reprise were still babes in their cribs when I saw it the last time. Now, five years old themselves, they were enthralled with the color, the music, the staging and the aerial effects. They are still telling everyone who'll listen, "And then Joseph flew over us!"
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is not just a kids' show, although that is how it all began in 1967. Sir Andrew (then just a Mr) was asked to compose a "pop cantata" for St Paul's Junior School's Easter concert. In collaboration with lyricst Tim Rice, Joseph appeared and was an instant hit, all 20 minutes of it, and then retired into quiet obscurity. Fueled by the critical and financial success of their Jesus Christ Superstar collaboration, however, Webber revived it in the mid-seventies, eventually hitting Broadway in 1982. A hard sell, however, at under half an hour, it wasn't until the "new" production premiered in 1991 in London (now a full length "Children's Oratorio") that it really took off. Livent snatched up the rights for North America, pulled Donny Osmond from the shelf of nearly forgotten teen idols, and made history with history.
And now, for the fourth time, the pied popstar is back in Toronto. The biblical story of Joseph, son of Jacob of Canaan, is told in Genesis. It begins with the young, self-centered Joseph announcing to his father and brothers his double dreams of their obeisance to him. When braggart Joseph visits his brothers as they tend the flocks, they decide to kill him and he ultimately falls into the hands of traders who sell him to the Egyptian Potiphar, captain of the guard. His brothers, however, tell dad that his son is dead, and give him Joseph's bloodstained garment, a preferential gift from his father, traditionally translated as "a coat of many colors." Later, in prison, Joseph's ability to interpret dreams brings him to the Pharaoh's notice. Interpreting the Pharaoh's dreams as foretelling seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, Joseph is put in charge of preparing for the drought. The famine causes Jacob and his sons to travel to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph's brothers do not recognize him, and through a series of trials and tests, the family is reunited by the repentance and restraint of its members.
The musical version is jam-packed with excitement, energy, and musical variety. There's country (One More Angel in Heaven), there's Elvis (Song of the King), there's French-bistro (Those Canaan Days), there's Disco-rock (Go, Go, Go Joseph) and there's even Benjamin Calypso. And of course some typical Webber, too: Any Dream Will Do and Close Every Door have become theme songs for Donny Osmond.
Donny is not the whole show, however. Good thing, as he is being replaced by Los Angeles-based musical theatre personality David Burnham on May 28. The story is held together by the Narrator, Kelli James Chase, back again in this tour after taking a few months off. In strong support are also Johnny Seaton, whose gyrations are still knocking them dead as Pharaoh ("The King") as he did in the 1992 premiere, and James Harmes in the multi-role of Jacob / Potiphar / Guru. Steven Pimlott is the director that keeps the pace pulsing, and Mark Thompson is the creative talent behind the set and costume designs. And did we mention the children's choirs? There are four of them, alternating performances, serving both to entertain and to bring the "spectacle" down to an irresistibly endearing human scale.
Joseph is playing an indefinite run (at least until August 3, 1997) at the Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street in Toronto. For tickets, call the Dreamcoat Hotline at 416/872-2222. Tickets are also available at the Elgin, Pantages and Ford Centre box offices, and at all TicketMaster outlets.
Go, go, go [to] Joseph! Your whole family will love it.