Fort Worth — It isn’t just about that coat. There are songs of many colors, too, in Casa Mañana’s athletic and high-spirited new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, among them a French cabaret-style lament, a Calypso toe-tapper, a country song full of crocodile tears, a bo-dee-oh-do jazz baby number—and yes, a rockabilly riff à la Elvis.
Director Tee Scatuorchio’s crisp direction sets a breathless pace for the show, and choreographer Mark Myars’ marvelous, shape-shifting dances lead the way in high style. This Joseph reminds us how and why this little show became a global perennial, with well over 20,000 school and amateur productions clocking in—not to mention the tours and TV versions and recordings. And though many of us might have seen (or acted in) one too many high school Josephs, Casa’s production is a treat. You won’t find a better-danced, better-sung professional version than this.
If last fall’s blazing Jesus Christ Superstar at Casa showed us how deep the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice could dig even at the earliest stage of their partnership, Joseph finds them skating giddily on the surface, showing off like the almost-schoolboys they were back in the late ’60s—full of raw, ready-to-go young talent. This show is the fun-loving baby brother of JC Superstar, yelling “I can do that!” at every turn—and writing a song to prove it.
Lloyd Webber and Rice were 23 and 19 when the boys choir director at one of Lloyd Webber’s old schools asked them to write a “pop cantata” for a school program—and they picked an action-packed, kid-friendly story from the Bible. Joseph, of course, tells the Old Testament tale of one of the 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob, whose jealous brothers (Joe is daddy’s favorite) throw him in a pit and leave him to be sold into slavery way down in Egypt land—where after trials and tribulations, his luck (he meets the Pharaoh of Egypt) takes a turn for the fabulous.
Joseph opens with a simple and smart framing device: a dozen children touring an Egyptian museum are led into the story by the show’s Narrator (vibrant soprano Mia Gerachis), whose sung-through storytelling introduces them to Joseph, “a dreamer like you.” The chorus of children, little talents drawn from local schools and Casa’s own theater program, cluster cosily around Joseph and chime in on the music at some important moments. They add warmth and heart to the show-bizzy goings-on—and remind us of Joseph’s roots as a story told by (and mostly for) young people.
The Casa design team has done itself proud. Samuel Rushen’s light design draws out the jewel-tone accents of Bob Lavallee’s handsome scenic design of Egyptian columns and stonework—and lights are used beautifully throughout to separate Joseph from the “herd” of his brothers. In a prison scene vibrating with emotion, Joseph glows within the luminescent circle of Rushen’s blue/white spotlights. And Tammy Spencer’s costumes, from textured Israelite desert wear to gold lamé togs for Pharaoh and company, enliven the show in every scene (including a “go-go” 1960s moment or two).
But let’s face it: Lloyd Webber’s music is the real star of this show (sorry, Pharaoh), and with James Cunningham conducting and a crisp group of musicians in the pit (pushed out into the audience to leave even more room for dancing!), Lloyd Webber’s catchy, ear-wormy tunes soar. And Casa’s triple-threat cast—one fine singer/dancer/actor after another—is up to the job, particularly in ensemble numbers whose “joyful noise” really does begin to feel Biblical.
Hunky and Samson-haired Tim Rogan is Joseph, whose charmingly intimate treatment of the show’s opening song (“Any Dream Will Do”) only hints at the vocal riches he’ll bring to the show’s powerhouse number, “Close Every Door.” And Rogan does a good job with the comedy—Joseph really is a pill at the start—and the drama; we feel for his lost-boy plight.
Michael Buchanan (Reuben) is twangy and hilarious as the lead singer for the brother’s country-western “lament” for poor poor Joseph, “One More Angel in Heaven.” Geoffrey Kidwell (Simeon) channels Pepé Le Peu (and Edith Piaf?) for the Frenchified “Those Canaan Days.” Brandon Michael Nase (Judah) sings a cute and danceable “Benjamin Calypso,” and Alex Puette sells his more-than-respectable Pharoah/Elvis, swiveling his hips and flirting madly with the ladies in the first rows. Bob Reed makes a caring but slightly fuddled Jacob and an upper-crusty Potiphar (with Olivia Sharber as his come-hither young wife); and Seth Womack catches the eye and ear as a fussy butler who’s helped by Joseph.
Narrator Gerachis, moving with grace and energy around the stage in Spencer’s sleek striped costume, tackles her tricky, all-singing-all-the-time role with verve and heart. She’s our link to the story—and her resounding soprano (despite some mike fuzz she nails the fast-patter Tim Rice lyrics) flies high on a string of songs, including “Poor Poor Joseph” and “Pharaoh’s Story.”
Joseph is one of the family-friendliest of musicals, and its relatively short 90-minute running time is about right for kids of elementary age and up. Buoyant, foot-tapping and oodles of fun, it still feels (50 years later!) like a young show written for the young at heart.