CENTERVILLE — With a crash of drums and a flash of light, the Bible story of Joseph and his coat of many colors goes musical in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“The story of Joseph is told in a musical, lighthearted way that children can easily understand,” says Alane Schultz, who directs the show at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre. “We like to tell Bible stories through cartoons or flannel boards, and ‘Joseph’ is a safe musical for parents to take children.”
With its bouncy rhythms that repetitively drive home simple melodies, the show can serve as a young child’s introduction to musicals. After an estimated 20,000 productions and a worldwide audience of more than 9 million theatergoers, “Joseph” remains a popular piece of peppy entertainment. It's also most certainly Utah's most frequently staged theater show.
Anticipating the question, Schultz asks, “Why do we revive it again and again and again? ‘Joseph’ is a money-maker. It’s a guaranteed hit, and the reality of community theater is that it’s a business and we’re trying to stay alive.”
The pastiche of Joseph’s story in Genesis Chapter 37 began as a 15-minute Easter cantata commissioned for a prestigious London schoolboys’ choir in 1968. Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber to lyrics by Tim Rice when they were 19 and 23, respectively, “Joseph” was stretched over the years into a full-length stage work, first performed on London’s West End in 1973 and on Broadway in 1982.
But “Joseph” has not always proved popular with musical theater observers.
When the musical was revived on Broadway in 1993, the New York Times’ Ben Brantley wrote, “The score evokes not only the pop standards Mr. Lloyd Webber is parodying, but also many of the motifs he would incorporate into his later, more ambitious works. It is music that burrows into the memory like an earwig.”
Lloyd Webber mixes the musical styles of calypso, country-western, English music hall, French chanson and Elvis-flavored rock ’n’ roll, along with a burst of late-1970s disco for the curtain call reprise of the “Joseph Megamix” of the show’s primary song, “Go, Go, Go Joseph.”
Although this is her first time directing “Joseph” at CenterPoint, Schultz has directed the production on three occasions and has enjoyed “playing with the design” for this staging. “It’s not quite as traditional as it is often played. The set designer has really played with a 1930s art deco inspiration that comes from one of the songs. We’re taking a more modern direction that is still true to the style that the writers intended.”
An interesting aspect of “Joseph” at CenterPoint is that “the show is double-cast, with 41 in each cast,” she says. “And there are several family members cast together, with adults in the main cast and their children in the children’s chorus. It’s a neat opportunity for families to do this together.”
Each of the 82 cast members will sing out that Joseph’s dazzling coat is “red and yellow and green and brown / and scarlet and black and ochre and peach / and ruby and olive and violet and fawn” and 16 other rainbow-hued colors. And blue.
If you go
What: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Where: Davis Center for the Performing Arts
When: March 4-30, Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with 2:30 p.m. Saturday matinees March 9, 16, 23 and 30
How much: $21-$17
Tickets: 801-298-1302 or centerpointtheatre.org