By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Broadway in Tucson brings us the Andrew Lloyd Webber favorite, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
How bulletproof does a Broadway musical need to be? Is there some point at which a cast of average talents can run through their parts and the show will still rouse its audience to a standing ovation?
Apparently, the answer is "yes" if the play is “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” performed by a decidedly generic cast booked by Broadway in Tucson. The lighting design by Howell Binkley makes way more impact than the stage presence of Diana DeGarmo as the Narrator and (her real-life husband) Ace Young as the mercurial Old Testament figure Joseph.
Don't feel too shocked, but this show by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is nearly 50 years old. The dazzling light show that often shot blinding beams back into the audience did make the energy feel lots more contemporary.
I always thought of “Joseph” as the prototype for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which contains a number of similar bits in both the performers and the music – such as giving Elvis Presley characteristics to a secondary lead role, in this case the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Pharaoh/Elvis does get enhanced with some delightful schtick by Ryan Williams that inspired a big audience response on opening night.
“Those Canaan Days” was a solid group effort, too, led by Paul Castree as Simeon, one of Joseph's brothers who helped gang up on the unpopular sibling and sell him into Egyptian slavery.
It also wouldn't hurt for you to brush up on the Old Testament's stories, as this show has no dialogue and the lyrics of all the songs are often buried under the pit orchestra. Fortunately, these musicians traveling traveling with the show do sound pretty good.
But, is this imbalance of musicians versus singers occuring because the performers need to be stronger? Or do the sound technicians just need to bring up the volume so the lead singers become dominant? Again, with the questions.
An eager chorus of 18 members, who also cover a variety of smaller roles, leap to the challenge of making up with enthusiasm what they lack in dancing skills. The choreography by show director Andy Blankenbuehler does keep everybody moving and jumping around on several levels of stage sets. So precise movements aren't really that important, but still...
For first-timers to seeing "Joseph," the show comes in three distinct parts. The first is Act One, when stage magic takes the audience from modern times to Old Testament times and then to Jacob and his sons. Once Jacob gives his son Joseph that legendary coat of many colors, the other brothers turn on Joseph and he falls on hard times. This act is rather boring.
Act Two covers Joseph's rise to influence with the Pharaoh, and the fall of Joseph's sinful brothers. This is the second part, which energizes memories of the first part.
It is the third part, a general hoot-nanny of energetic celebration completely unrelated to Joseph in any way, that sells the show and saves the evening. This part also has the best light show, shamelessly inspiring the audience to jump up for that aforementioned standing ovation.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” continues through Sunday, Jan. 11, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, in Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., on the University of Arizona campus.
Tickets are $25-$75 purchased at the Centennial Hall box office, or online for a Ticketmaster surcharge at 1-800-745-3000.