National Tour Theater Review: JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (2014 National Tour)

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by Paul Birchall on June 5, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

TECHNICOLOR TURNCOAT

It’s like one of the Great Plagues of Egypt:  Every so often, some producer decides to dust off another production of this old Andrew Lloyd Webber chestnut, and cast some past-his-sell-by date TV star in the role of Joseph, the hot young Biblical fellow whose dreams and visions earn him fame and favor with Pharaoh. With music by Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat isn’t the worst work in the world – though it does suffer from being the overdone product of a thousand senior year high school productions.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014

For director Andy Blankenbuehler’s creaky staging of the musical, we are given former American Idol stars Ace Young (in the role of the eponymous Joseph) and Diana DeGarmo (The Narrator), both of whom also happen to be husband and wife. In truth, it’s a pleasure to hear some of the famous old show tunes the production boasts – really, anyone who has a larynx can sing songs such as “Any Dream Will Do” and make it tuneful – but it’s awkward when you are watching a show and you realize that you’ve seen productions of it at gay bar karaoke nights with ten times the passion and vigor than this fusty production renders.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014

Alas, this bus-and-truck edition of the show suffers from being so mechanical and lacking in underlying depth, it almost feels like a tech rehearsal in which the cast has been told to reign in any “acting” and just speed through the dialogue and songs to get through the piece as fast as possible.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014

For those who don’t know the story, Joseph is sold into slavery by his several brothers, but winds up in the household of the Pharaoh after he correctly predicts seven years of famine. Most of the tale is recounted by The Narrator, and DeGarmo abets the karaoke-like atmosphere by brandishing a handheld microphone throughout the show. Her voice frankly lacks the chops and resonance for theatrical work: She strains at high notes, which tend to vanish into the ether of a hyena-like yip, and she seems capable of only a couple of expressions: The photogenic smile and the duck-lipped pout.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014

As for Young’s turn as the role of Joseph, he doesn’t quite possess the stage heft necessary to command attention. His voice, amplified to the point of almost being bionic, sounds like thin ice, cracking and lacking in forceful breath control. Other performers in the role have possessed charisma that keeps your attention. For some reason, Young simply doesn’t catch it. Even when he’s dancing humpy and shirtless, our eyes wander to a flipping chorus dancer or an actor rubbing his belly as character expression. Young just can’t capture the focus, particularly since his default expression is a leering, smiling rictus that is reminiscent of the lockjaw grin of one who has perished from arsenic.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014

Most of the show’s weaknesses, though, rely on Blankenbuehler’s rather sad staging, which seems weirdly stuck in the amber of the 1980s. Really, you have never seen so many instances of Jazz Hands since a production of Pippin from that decade. And the musical numbers are generally so over-miked that Rice’s already Easy-Bake lyrics are often lost in the fizz and the thump. Truly, even with the generous energy from a hard-working chorus, the show suffers from a curiously glum despair. For one thing, scenic designer Beowulf Borutt’s set is just plain cheap looking; at one point curtains descend from the ceiling, causing Pharaoh’s court to resemble the backdrop of a spelling bee in Paducah. As characters don cheap shrouds onto which are projected video images of fish or birds, it’s like a scene from the movie Soylent Green before the old guy gets eaten.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014

Ultimately, it’s hard to see how any production of Joseph can get things so wrong, but this edition just clunks along as an act of indifferent commerce rather than theater.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014

photos by Daniel A. Swalec

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
produced by the Independent Presenters Network
reviewed at Hollywood Pantages

National Tour continues until April, 2015 May 10, 2016
for cities and tickets, visit Joseph on Tour

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

PAUL JESER June 6, 2014 at 8:09 pm

These reviews must have missed the show. We’ve seen it a dozen times in different settings and productions. This production WAS outstanding in every way. Fresh, exciting, entertaining from beginning to end.

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Tony Todd June 12, 2014 at 10:49 am

Just saw it last night. Wish I would have read this review ahead of time; it was spot on. Done correctly, “Joseph” has a wonderful mix of cheekiness and warmth. Like the review said, this has a tone of despair. The Joseph actor just flat out “didn’t get it.” And I agree totally about the cheap set design, vocals and lack of charisma by just about all the leads. The only part of this show that was any good was the “Those Canaan Nights” number featuring the brothers. The red headed kid who was the lead during this did a great job, as did the other brothers. Everything else in this play is underwhelming and not worth your time or money.

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Franco S June 13, 2014 at 10:18 am

Yes, we wish we had our money back after taking our two kids.

It looked like they spent $495 on the set. It makes me wonder if the Pantages cheeseballs all their productions (or at least they have some requirements if it’s up to the producer). I’ll think about that the next time before I buy tickets there.

The brothers were good, but the other three leads were nowhere near what I’d seen before in terms of singing. If their objective was to save money on the production, they could’ve saved themselves and the audience a lot of money by not putting it on in the first place.

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Mary June 13, 2014 at 11:36 pm

This review is spot on. I have been to many theater shows (large and small), and this one is by far the worst I have ever seen. I am amazed that it is possible to get so many things so wrong – especially in Los Angeles where even the small theaters draw amazing talent. Someone needs to be fired over this show as people paid hard earned money to see it. The characters and costumes were all wrong. The lead voices were weak and hard to hear. I am all for rights of everyone, but the gay aspect was overdone and thrown in everyone’s face. All of the dance scenes were too long and boring – they incorporated a casual air that didn’t work. The stage setting was cheap looking and incorporated random things that had no meaning (generally, “things” in theater have significance and depth or foreshadow something). These were meaningless and boring. I left the theater angry that I spent time and money on this show. I will go to the Pantages again because I love the theater, and I just saw The Book of Mormon there, which was fabulous. But this director’s name is going on my “no-go” list for sure.

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Joel June 17, 2014 at 1:54 pm

I don’t get it. Were we in the same theater? Yes, the set was budget-level, but what amazed was that, in spite of that, this vigorous, energetic, hard-working cast really sold the show. The scene with the brothers at the table, and the Pharoah scene were hilarious. The audience responded with cheers and thunderous applause. The show was no “Les Miz” but it was great fun and very enjoyable.

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Hadley von Haddleburg June 20, 2014 at 11:31 pm

I loved this show at the same venue about 20 years ago. It had warmth and charm and a beguiling narrator and a children’s chorus. You actually cared about the story and about the history of it all.

Tonight, the narrator was not beguiling and there was no children’s chorus. The actor who played Joseph did not even rise to the level of dislikeable. The charm was gone, so they Las Vegas’ed a very loud show — painfully loud.

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Mark June 23, 2014 at 11:13 am

I have seen this 5 times and this was very good. My kids loved it. I just wish the Dreamcoat was more technicolor.

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