Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: a production of many (excellent) colours

The Gateway Theatre is producing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Yeah! Saturate those hues! (Set by Carolyn Rapanos, lighting by Andrew Pye, costumes by Christina Sinosich.
Photo by Tim Matheson)

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a supremely dumb musical but, if you get its exuberance right, you have something — and director Barbara Tomasic’s production gets the exuberance right.

Joseph started out as a 15-minute pop cantata that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote for London’s Colet Court School in 1968. In the full-blown, sung-through musical, you can still see the young Rice and Lloyd Webber testing their skills as they imitate recognizable styles in broad parodies. As they tell the Old Testament story of Joseph and his coat of many colours, they serve up country-and-western, rock-and-roll, a French boulevard song — even a calypso number. It’s a nonsensical grab bag, but the musical’s clear and simple goal is to show off and have a good time.

To be frank, there’s no emotional resonance to any of this. Joseph is a jerk to his eleven older brothers: his dreams make it obvious that he thinks he’s better than they are, so you really don’t care when they throw him down a well and then sell him as a slave. Neither do you care when Joseph becomes the Egyptian Pharaoh’s right-hand dream interpreter and his starving brothers come to Egypt to beg for grain. Every plot point is just a set-up for another poppy song.

So narratively and thematically, there is sweet nothing to hang onto.

But, stylistically, some of the songs can be fun — I enjoy the Jacques Brel-like “Those Canaan Days”, for instance — and this energetic, deliberately naïve Gateway Theatre production is distracting to watch, pleasing to listen to, and great to look at.

In fact, the design is the star of the show — and Carolyn Rapanos just happens to use a whole lot of stars in her set. Centre stage, she places the giant blue sculptural outline of a star and she hangs a bunch of big, bold, intensely coloured stars around it. Her palette feels like it could have been borrowed from the world’s most sophisticated kindergarten classroom. The blue of the big star — and the dominant colour in the set — is a lot like the Classic Blue that Pantone has declared the colour of the year for 2020: it’s saturated, but also a little murky, which is where the interest comes in — and you could say the same of the lime, orange, ochre, and purple that Rapanos splashes all over the place.

She adds a ridge to the inner lip of the stars, which means the line of illumination can be very dramatic — as intense as neon — when lighting designer Andrew Pye floods them from the right angles. This is all very cool.

And costumer Christina Sinosich knows what she’s doing — with the eye-popping pink suit she gives the Pharaoh, for instance and the intensely coloured play clothes for Joseph’s brothers.

Impressively, every last person in this ensemble can sing. Oliver Castillo, who’s playing Joseph, has a pure tone, impressive range, and winningly sincere delivery. And the same is true of Chelsea Rose as the Narrator. Madeleine Suddaby rocks out as the Elvis-like Pharaoh and Vincente Sandoval brings welcome tonal warmth to “Benjamin Calypso.”

Nicol Spinola’s choreography keeps things pumping with lots of energy and unexpected patterning — although I’ve got to say the hula references in the calypso are baffling.

Still, hooray for the production.

Do its successes make the material worthwhile? Nope. The chances of giving Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat anything resembling a soul are slim. (I saw it happen once, decades ago, with Uncle Randy Productions, but that was a kind of miracle.) Still, the energy in this Gateway mounting is admirable and its polished surfaces are excellent.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT Lyrics by Tim Rice. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Barbara Tomasic. A Gateway Theatre production. At the Gateway Theatre on Thursday, December 19.  Continues until December 31. Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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