JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Tim Rice; directed by James D. Waring; choreographed by Wayne Cilento; costumes by Judith Dolan; voice and instrumental arrangements by Kevin J. McCarthy.
With Ayl Mack, Tony Elliot, Doug Voet, Joseph Normile, and Blaise Corrigan.
At Ford's Theatre.
The most amazing thing about "joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," to judge from last night's opening at Ford's Theatre," is its persistence.
Conceived in 1968 as a 15-minute choral work for a London schoolboy choir, "Joseph" has since traversed the English-speaking world, meeting with acclaim from Edinburgh to Brooklyn, surfacing three times in Washington alone, and growing bigger and longer with each appearance.
The Ford's production is advertised as a "pre-Broadway" engagement, so there may be chapters yet to be written in this astounding saga. But when the stardust was settled, "Joseph will probably go down in show business history as the inspiration for the Joseph Principle -- which is simply the Peter Principle applied to theatrical entertainments.
Authors Tim Rice and Andrew Loyd Webber, the pair responsible for "jesus Christ Superstar" and "evita," seem to be as amazed as anyone by "joseph's" popularity. "by mid-1969 we felt that 'Joseph' had gone as far as it could," they have written in a short history of the show and its journeys.
"joseph" is a rock oratorio drawn from the Book of Genesis. It tell of how Joseph's jealous brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt, how he comes to the Pharoah's attention through his remarkable ability to interpret dreams and how, put in charge of Egypt's famine-prevention program, he winds up selling food to his family and tribesmen.
As staged by James D. Waring, who first directed the work at Catholic University in 1977, "joseph" seeks to win its audiences' hearts with a blinding assortment of scenic and sartorial gimmicks. Joseph's brothers wear abbreviated overalls. The Egyptian woman wear toreador pants, bandeau tops and corn-row hairdos. The Pharoah is done up as Elvis Presley, with a song and a singing style to match (although the words to the song were largely incomprehensible last night, not only the first time but through two thoroughly unnecessary encores).
Underneath its bright colors and broad smiles, "joseph" has no particular point to make and no particular slant on its material. And save for a few sparse bursts of wit -- Joseph's interpretation of the Pharoah's feast-and-famine dream, for example: "all those things you saw in your pajamas/Are a long-range forecast for your farmers" -- the lyrics are downright shabby.
There is really nothing to say, for good or ill, about the performances, because they are all perfectly consistent with the indiscriminately upbeat tone of the whole evening. But there is much that could be said about the fact that the key performers carry wireless microphones in their hands and sound as though they are being piped in from another auditorium.