Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: biblical camp and musical polyglot
by Drew Rowsome -Photos by Seana Kennedy
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues until Sun, July 24 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave. lowerossingtontheatre.com
I had never seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and,
as always when approaching anything by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, my expectations were kept in check. But direction by Alan Kinsella and several familiar, and talented, faces in the cast couldn't help but whet the anticipation. That this Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat turns out to be a pleasant mixture of entertaining and puzzling instead of spectacular, seems to be a fault of the source material, biblical and librettical, rather than from the valiant efforts of the cast and crew.
As befits a non-visual recording (from 1969), the plot and characterization are narrated rather than shown. Songs often exist seemingly because Sir Webber wanted to riff on a musical style rather than to illustrate an emotional state. The heavy lifting of the narration falls on the shoulders of Bianca Heuvelmans ([title of show]) who winks at the audience, winks at her cast mates and with her delightful persona that combines pre-Raphaelite princess with burlesque queen, charms and makes it work.
It is the campier moments that work best - Phil Skala (Rent, Cabaret, Avenue Q, Buddy) duplicitiously mourning, plotting and line-dancing; Jacob Sheffield demonstrating remarkable acrobatic skills before revealing the supple sensual voice of a chanteur; Kayla Christyne Gerber Carmen Miranda-ing; Leilani Maya Ross Jezebel-ing from within folds of glitter; Jeffrey Bowers (Hairspray, Anything Goes) being fleet of foot and utterly libidinous; hunky hairy-chested Adam Martino (Legally Blonde) bursting into balletic grace; and particularly Thomas James Finn (Buddy, Anything Goes) mugging through multiple roles before blossoming into a hysterically funny Presley-fied Pharoah - even if there is no motivation for any of it.
Stranded in the centre of all the frenzied activity is Mitch Wood as the titular Joseph. The character comes across as petulant and passive which leaves Wood no choice but to paste on a grin, hit his marks and try to inject passion into ballads that express absolutely nothing. It is a starring role with no support system, totally dependent on charisma to keep afloat let alone take flight. It is problematic when one is more concerned that the mostly bare-chested Joseph is sporting a farmer's tan and a Crispin Glover wig, than having any investment in his fate.
Despite its inconsistencies, the score is full of catchy songs - just try to leave the theatre without singing "Go, go, go Joseph" - and if one just surrenders to the singing, it is satisfying. By the end, Webber/Rice have run out of ideas, and plot, so they cobble together a recap medley that, in this case, it has been re-imagined as a satirical mash-up of Up With People, '70s variety shows and '90s Cazwell videos, that dazzles with its sheer strangeness and nerve, sending us out into the night laughing and singing, "Go, go, go Joseph."