JOSEPH -- At Ford's Theater through June 1.
Each of the previous four times that James D. Waring has put on "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in this area, it has been accompanied by a chorus from the audience, murmuring, in the lobby and parking lots, "They ought to do something with this."
Not that production at the Catholic University and three at Olney Theater aren't "something." But this effervescent show, sparkling with wit, charm and wonderful songs, is something you want to tell your friends to see, something you want to see matched against slick, super-professional Broadway musicals that disappointed you. And there wasn't much time or room for that in its limited engagements in small theaters.
Now Ford's Theater, to its great credit, is producing Waring's "Joseph," with as many of the same talented C.U. students as were available, for larger, downtown Washington audiences.
Vernacular re-tellings of Biblical stories have become enormously popular in recent years, in stage musicals and film. Many of them are dreadful, and the ones that try to be "authentic,"such as the new movie, "Jesus," are the worst. "Joseph," a student work by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is in the best tradition of religious folk art, telling the story in terms of its audience, which means, these days, mixing sophistication and modernity with the familiar story. Western, rock, French chanson and Calypso styles are used for different songs. But, like an Anna Russell opera summary, the plot is accurate, although the effect is funny.
It has the same simple style as Webber and Rice's current Broadway hit, "Evita," -- a narrator who recites the story line and a minimal, multi-purpose stage set with screens above it for additional illustrations. And, also like "Evita," slips into the satire a song that will snare you emotionally in spite of yourself. (The one in "Joseph" is "Close Every Door," about the Jewish yearning for a homeland. In "Evita" it's the hypocritical and yet strangely moving, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina.")
There have been certain problems in enlarging this production that had achieved its own small perfection. It's clumsy the way hand microphones are passed around on stage, and the sound reproduction opening night was poor. There are lots of new humorous touches, in costume, screen illustrations and stage business, where well enough should have been left alone.
But the spirit remains: the narrator, Ayl G. Mack, the Pharoah, Blaise Corrigan, and several of the brothers are as good as ever, and the new Joseph, Doug Voet, is as good as his predecessor, which is saying a lot.