AMAZING! Joseph and his coat.
Bible stories can be interesting whether you hear them at church or elsewhere. The Navajo creation myth is fascinating whether or not you're a Native American, after all. And if a story has the roller coaster action of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, it could become the musical that you can see at the Courthouse Center for the Arts, in West Kingston, through April 15.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the original snack box version of this empty-calorie but filling musical meal was their first public presentation. It was staged as a 15-minute cantata in 1968, five years before the full-blown production hit London's West End. In between, their controversial Jesus Christ Superstar, with its messiah humanized, came to Broadway on its way to becoming a perennial hit.
Joseph, like the other musical, descends toward tragedy in the first act but rises in the second with the character's redemption, unlike Superstar, which had no resurrection scene. A similar disappointment is in store for those expecting Bible chapter and verse here, since the entire narrative is sung, 25 songs over the two short acts. Music director Shawn Balduc thereby earns more credit than usual for that function in a musical, gathering an ensemble of pleasant voices to complement the work of director/choreographer Richard Sabellico.
This production comes across like an enthusiastic community theater production rather than something more polished, like most shows at the Courthouse. There is a chorus of 16 men, women, and children. And there's a handful of Egyptian Ishmaelites, plus a gaggle of Joseph's unfraternal brothers, specified as 11 but here only seven in most scenes, with five kids filling in when specific names come up.
On top of that limitation, this is not the best written of Webber/Rice collaborations, story-wise — the first act takes too long to get going, in flat contrast to the propulsion of later energetic songs. So it's especially fortunate that the two leads are very strong.
The Narrator guiding us through all this in 15 of the songs — more than the title character gets to sing — is Lizzy Palmer, whose charm frequently perks up our interest through sheer spunk and charisma. Even more impressive, being even more prominent, is Billy Steeves as Joseph. What a lovely voice. His acting is also well balanced, heightened when necessary but not overly intense, appropriate since this musical doesn't take itself too seriously.
From the Book of Genesis, the story of Joseph and his "coat of many colors" is initiated by his jealous brothers, who resent the paternal preference that the sartorial gift represents. They fail to kill him but do manage to sell him into slavery, showing their father his goat-blood stained coat.
Joseph's difficulties start when one of his dreams, which he had never failed to interpret accurately, indicates that his brothers will someday be subservient to him ("Your 11 sheaves of corn/All turned and bowed to mine"). After they sell him, he is taken into Egypt and resold to the prosperous Potiphar (Edwin Kane). But the man's bawdy wife (Alyssa Gorgone) takes a carnal liking to Joseph, and when they are found together in what looks like a compromising situation, Joseph is thrown into the dungeon.