SUNDANCE — I’ve never quite understood the phenomenon behind Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. While Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s music and Tim Rice‘s lyrics are catchy, the show always felt as more of a musical revue and less a cohesive narrative to me. There aren’t any real peaks or valleys in the story, and there isn’t much dramatic tension. Joseph is a lot of flash and not a lot of substance. Despite personal preference, I remained invested in the technical value of this show. There is no shortages of productions of Joseph within Utah, but fans of this musical are sure to find satisfaction in Sundance’s rendition. A tranquil outdoor setting, and well-organized transportation, combined with the professional technical renderings made this an enjoyable evening. (Bring something cushy to sit on though!)
The Book of Genesis serves as the source material of Joseph. It’s a popular musical based on the adventures of Joseph, son of Jacob. Joseph’s fervor for dream interpretation and Jacob’s overt favoritism towards his son leads Jacob’s other sons to sell Joseph to slave traders. He eventually winds up being able to use his gift of dream interpretation to help Egypt’s pharaoh survive seven years of famine. This same famine finds Joseph’s family on the brink of starvation, and they come to Egypt in hopes of receiving some of Pharaoh’s stores of food. Though they do not initially recognize Joseph, his identity is revealed, and they apologize for their grievous misdeeds towards him. Familial reunion follows, and everyone is happy.
Spectacle abounds in the Sundance production of this Utah favorite, thanks to the cohesive creative vision of this show. I enjoyed the fact that the production team diverted from a standard Josephesque setting and chose to depict the events with an American Western slant. This artistic vision added an element of newness, and distinguished itself from other productions in Utah. An absolutely beautiful set (designed by Stephen Purdy) was only magnified by the richness of nature around it, and the decision to include local woods into the scenery was a wise choice. Beautiful colors suggested a western backdrop and laid the framework for a visually magnificent sight. Lighting (designed by Matthew Taylor) only complemented the set, and perhaps veered more into the territory of “technicolor,” making the stage appear colored like an old movie. The result was an effect that felt a little concert-esque.
Initially, I worried how the choice to use a Western setting would inform the costuming choices, but costume designers Nancy Cannon and Carla Summers‘s used the Western motifs to great effect. Each of the brothers maintained a sense of individuality in their costumes, but the overall cohesiveness remained. Of note, were Pharaoh and the Narrator’s light-trimmed suits, both really fun ways to pay homage to the original script while showing an excellent flair. Indeed, I think the Narrator’s final costume was a show highlight for me. Moreover, the ensemble costumes were integrated well into the songs, and helped to sell the Western thematic very well. Kudos to the costume team on this show, and their execution of multitudinous changes in costumes.
I also appreciated that director D. Terry Petrie ensured that this production didn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve seen shows where there was a seeming theme of preaching something highly didactic, but Sundance’s show successfully played into the campy cadence of Joseph. “Those Canaan Days” stands as the strongest example of this to me: a very French, noir song with a tango dance break that was both amusing and a visually fun departure from the rest of the show. Paul McGrew sang through the brothers’ woes nicely, and his performance set the tone for the scene. Indeed, one of the strongest points of this show was the ensemble; their voices didn’t compete with each other, and no one tried to stand out more than the other. I appreciated how well they worked together, and the final result was quite enchanting. Particular numbers that stood out to me included “One More Angel in Heaven” and ” Go, Go, Go Joseph.” But in every song this ensemble was tight, connected, and sounded amazingly together.
Actually, all there was a consistent high quality to the performances throughout the night. I enjoyed Emily Rose Lyon’s portrayal of Narrator. She seemed invested enough in the characters surrounding her, and held her own on the stage well. It’s a big role to carry, and generally, Lyons did a great job. Vocally, her voice was strong, though some lapses in diction meant it was hard to understand what, exactly, she was singing at times. As a bulk of the story is told through her, I wonder if there is not a way to either amplify her more. As Joseph, Preston Taylor remained consistent. Joseph is not a terribly nuanced character as written, but Preston Taylor performed with enough charisma to hold my interest throughout the show. He was sincere and charming in his time on stage, singing through Joseph with a delightful air.
Overall? For someone that’s not converted to the Joseph hype, I still enjoyed the show. It was an evening well spent in a beautiful theater, and the technicolor spectacle did not disappoint. Avid lovers of this show will surely enjoy this performance, and it’s entirely approachable for audience members of all ages. (There were younger children in the show too, which is something fun for young viewers to see.) Check out Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat while it’s still running.