Theater Review: 5 ways the “Joseph” tour updated just enough

Maggie Curry

Sham wow, with bright lights and multiple colors (29, to be exact). “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” lit up C.Y. Stephens to a full auditorium.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is the first production Andrew Lloyd Webber really worked on. It underwent five or so revisions before it became the show it is today, so it doesn’t quite fit the bill of a normal Webber musical.

“Joseph” is a high energy constant wheel of musical genres and technicolor lighting that began to fall flat the older it got. It’s been co-opted by school performers for several decades, but the national tour managed to take a production that was showing it’s age and vamp it up even more than it was already vamped.

It could have easily been over-the-top, childish, or exhausting – but it wasn’t. The tour pushes each characterization and style as far as it could go before it became cliché (mostly due to the talent of the ensemble). The production completely ditches subtlety but avoids being blunt, walking the almost-satirical parody tightrope gracefully.

So what made it so sham-wow?

1. Projections

It’s a map of Egypt. No, it’s hieroglyphs. No, there are fish on that woman. No, wait, it’s all of that. Did you know you could project onto goats and costumes? You can.

The use of projections also helped keep the slower, vocally-impressive moments of the show from the narrator visually interesting (which is probably good for the kiddos.)

2. Prologue

The prologue of the show traditionally starts in the audience, in modern day, with the narrator telling the story. Instead, the tour took JC McMann, who plays Joseph, from a sleeping state as an adolescent, through school, university and the corporate world. The narrator was talking as much to him as to us, highlighting that Joseph’s story could be anybody’s story.

It also introduced us to the new choreography right off the bat in isolated, almost sculptural moves that took the ensemble through the different stages to adulthood.

3. Choreography

What happens when you take the talents of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and stick them in a bible story? Amazing things.

Blankenbuehler uses slower motion and physical tension to emphasize the space and pictures he is creating and lifts to eliminate dead space. He played well with the different musical styles, adding a fun couples’ swing in the western-esque “One More Angel in Heaven” and an N-Sync style remix at the end of the show.

4. “Those Canaan Days”

The French-style song is traditionally a crowd favorite already, but throw in a dinner scene using bowls and silverware as percussion instruments and you have a show-stopper.

The brothers also played around with vocal control, acting like an a cappella group and changing their pitches and sounds based on one brother’s movements. He even controlled the audience’s applause.

5. Lead vocals

The narrator was played by alternate Shea Gomez, and she stepped up to the plate in high heels and leather pants, keeping the musical modern-pop. Joe Ventricelli was the Elvis-impersonating Pharaoh, another traditional crowd-pleaser.

But JC McMann stole the audience in “Close Every Door.” The one song that really feels like Webber instead of playing at another genre, McMann’s arrangment did not only wrap around the crowd’s heart (as the song should, when done well), but McMann made the song raw, powerful and seductively honest, establishing Joseph as worthy of being the center of a show and McMann worthy of playing him.

Going into the show I was prepared to be politely entertained, as years of middle school productions had tarnished “Joseph”‘s dreaminess. The musical never stops for dialogue, which can be exhausting on an audience. Yet I came out not only singing a few songs, but having had a genuinely good time. The ensemble was talented, expressive and hilarious in both movement and voice; the leads proved capable, and the updates made the show fresh and fun.