Story: Israelite Joseph is the 11th of the 12 sons of Jacob and his father’s obvious favorite. Joseph, who has a penchant for dreaming and for interpreting dreams, becomes the subject of increased jealousy when Jacob gives him a beautiful, multi-colored coat. Angered by this extravagant gift, his brothers threaten to kill Joseph but instead sell him into slavery to Ishmaelites who take him to Egypt.
There, Joseph wins the favor of the wealthy Potiphar until the latter suspects him of having an affair with Potiphar’s chronically unfaithful wife. Joseph is imprisoned with a baker and a butler, who reveal to him their own dreams and wonderment at what they mean. The butler is delighted to hear Joseph say he will be freed, while the baker is depressed to hear that he himself will be executed.
Subsequently, when the Pharoah talks about his own troubling dreams, his butler tells him about Joseph and his unique gift. The Pharoah listens to Joseph, prepares his nation for seven years of feast and how to survive the following seven years of famine and rewards Joseph for his prescience. The lean years also bring Joseph’s repentant brothers to Egypt in search of food, where after a brief test of their change of heart, Joseph reunites with his family.
Highlights: A youthful Andrew Lloyd Webber and his classmate Tim Rice were inspired by the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis of the Old Testament to write a 15-minute children’s cantata in 1968. A couple of years later they hit stardom when their other biblical effort, Jesus Christ Superstar, became a best-selling rock opera album before it was a theatrical musical. They went back, stretched Joseph to LP and musical length, and had a second major musical smash as a result.
Joseph remains as fresh, exhilarating and optimistic as it was when created by those two talented English school chums nearly 45 years ago. It’s also gimmick-proof, as evidenced by the thoroughly ingratiating and refreshing version mounted by director and choreographer Lara Teeter for The Muny in Joseph’s fifth visit to the famous amphitheater.
Other Info: Teeter’s creativity is as ebullient and limber as his own loose-limbed body. While he can’t completely meld ancient Egypt with contemporary St. Louis, the resulting ‘spawn’ is so humorous that it adds flair and comedy to the already upbeat tone of Joseph. Whether watching a quartet of mummies gyrating to the Elvis-style crooning of the Pharoah on the infectiously entertaining Song of the King or Joseph’s brothers as glum clerks at Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard (even turning those thick concretes upside down) on the French-style ballad, Those Canaan Days, it’s fun to see what Teeter will think up next.
Thus, landmarks around The Lou serve as springboards for the tunes that Lloyd Webber wrote in a plethora of musical styles (rock, country, calypso, pop) that proved (a) what a show-off he was as a musical phenom and (b) how very good he was in nailing various genres. Add Rice’s always clever and amusing lyrics (“We’ve read the book/and you come out on top”) and it’s a formula for good times and high energy.
Teeter does make a curious decision by taking the signature calypso tune, Benjamin Calypso, and changing it to Benjamin Gospel by setting it in a north St. Louis church. It’s a great number either way, but the new version does require changing the name of the tune. Still, it gives Maurice Murphy, as brother Judah, a chance to belt out the spirited new version with power and panache.
Mamie Parris displays a smooth, soaring voice as the Narrator, mingling with modern kids in the Prologue or setting up the story of Jacob and Sons beneath an LED banner of that moniker that looks a heck of a lot like a certain local grocery chain. Justin Guarini, lithe and nimble a few weeks back as slick attorney Billy Flynn in Chicago, is an amiable and engaging title character in this rousing production, showing off that resplendent frock to great effect.
Austin Miller is a huge crowd favorite as The King from that “other” Memphis, the one in Egypt. His captivating bit on Song of the King features some of the best choreography of the evening, complete with swooning ladies of the Nile and modern groupies alike. Rory Max Kaplan as sibling Levi has a grand time at the brothers’ hoedown with their fake lamentation, One More Angel in Heaven, while Gary Glasgow struggles with the fates as both Jacob and Potiphar. Michael Baxter nicely plays Joseph’s kid brother, Benjamin.
Technical support is complementary without being intrusive, as a mobile bridge serves as the basic piece in Steve Gilliam’s set design, sumptuously lit by Seth Jackson. Robin McGee provides an expansive array of colorful costumes, Jason Krueger adds the sound design, Michael Horsley is in charge of the spirited chorus and an unnamed prop master provides a ’50s Cadillac or two for show.
What’s not to love about Joseph? It’s a dream of a show, still infectious after all these years.
Musical: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: July 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29
Tickets: From free to $70; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Larry Pry/The Muny