Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

by Lynn on December 29, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Mirvish Productions. Playing until February 18, 2023.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Laurence Connor

Choreographed by Joann M. Hunter

Set and Costumes by Morgan Large

Lighting by Ben Cracknell

Sound by Gareth Owen

Music director, Ben Mark Turner

Cast: Vanessa Fisher

Jac Yarrow

Tosh Wanogho-Maud

Plus a chorus of 22 singers/dancers and 16 children

Buoyant, bright, lively, energetic. A good way to introduce kids and adults to musical theatre if they don’t already go to the theatre.

The Story. This production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  has come from the Palladium Theatre in London, for a long run at the Princess of Wales The music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.They wrote it in their early 20s and it was their second musical—the first one was not performed until 1968. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was not performed professionally until 1972 at the Edinburgh Festival. There were various iterations of it before that, but the 1972 production was the first professional viewing.

It’s based on the story of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph was one of 12 sons born to Jacob. Joseph was his favourite son, his son of old age. To show that love, Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colours. Such favouratism by a parent is not a formula for family stability. This coat didn’t go down too well with Joseph’s brothers, who hated him because he was the favourite, and they thought Joseph flaunted that favoritism.  Joseph could interpret dreams and one dream suggested that in time Joseph would have dominion over his brothers.

At first the brothers plotted to kill him. Then they decided to sell him into slavery to some passing Ishmaelites. They told Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal and they brought him Joseph’s coat, torn and bloody as proof.

Joseph in the meantime prevailed and found himself in Egypt. Through smarts his abilities to interpret dreams came to the attention of the Pharaoh of Egypt who had been troubled with bad dreams. Joseph was able to decipher the Pharaoh’s Dreams. There would be seven years of good crops followed by seven years of bad. Pharoah made Joseph his right-hand man to plan for the famine. It’s here that Joseph is able to finally face his family. They come to Egypt because they are starving and they hear that Egypt has food. There is a reconning between the brothers. 

And they all sing about it.

The Production. The story is introduced by a Narrator (Vanessa Fisher) who moves things along to keep us on track. It starts in a classroom and the teacher who is also the Narrator, tells the children of the story of Joseph (Jac Yarrow) and his family and the technicolor dreamcoat.

It’s not the only time Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have gone to the Bible for a story for a musical. They also wrote the equally huge mega-musical, Jesus Christ Super Star.It’s a show about Jesus being betrayed by one of his disciples. Part of that seems a debate between Jesus and Judas who betrayed him. Both of these roles in Jesus Christ Super Star had great opportunities to belt out a song.

Interestingly, in this early musical of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, there are few opportunities for Joseph to belt out. Jac Yarrow as a very sweet, engaging Joseph makes a quiet entrance into ‘the classroom’ singing “Any Dream Will Do.” It’s melodic, understated and easily hummable—pure Andrew Lloyd Webber. Joseph is even subdued in his dream interpretations.

The one with the flashy part and belting numbers is the Narrator—who is played by the multi-talented Vanessa Fisher. She is a belter, a fine dancer and a wonderful actor as well. Interestingly, while it’s called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat you would expect Joseph to have the star-bow, the last bow. In fact, it’s Vanessa Fisher as the Narrator who has the star-bow.  I think that’s fitting.

How does Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fare against other Webber-Rice musicals such as Jesus Christ Super Star and Evita?  With Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor DreamcoatAndrew Lloyd Webber arrived fully formed musically, with his lilting, melodic, hummable uncomplicated music so prevalent in all his musicals. There is early evidence of his penchant for the reprising of some songs and repeating chords to stick in the memory. There are more reprises in other musicals of his songs, but the technique of repetition is obvious here.

In Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Tim Rice’s lyrics are rather banal.

From the song “Benjamin Calypso”: “No Ifs. No Buts. Benjamin is honest as coconuts.” Is mystifying.

With the hit song: “Any Dream will Do”, the first song in the show, we have these lyrics:

“I close my eyes, draw back the curtain

To see for certain what I thought I knew

Far, far away, someone is weeping

But the world was sleeping

Any dream with do.”


Apparently, it’s supposed to make sense after we see the whole show when the song is reprised. Ok, I’ve seen the whole musical. It still makes no sense. In other shows, and certainly in Evita, the lyrics are more intellectual, even sophisticated. But occasionally I find in Tim Rice’s later musicals he seems to write for himself, rather than the character. Still I do see a maturity, a progression in his lyrics from this show to others. With Andrew Lloyd Webber he just seems to copy either himself musically or Puccini.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a good way to introduce a young person or anyone not familiar with theatre, to musical theatre. Director Laurence Connor keeps the quick pace moving. It’s a loud, busy musical with lots of dancing and rock-concert lighting. Kudos to choreographer, Joann M. Hunter and Lighting by Ben Cracknell. There is nothing in the story that will be intimidating or challenging. But I found that in many cases I could not make out the lyrics because of the over amplification and the loudness of the music. I didn’t have a clue what Pharaoh (Tosh Wanogho-Maud) is singing (“Poor, Poor Pharoah”) thank heavens for google. Tosh Wanogho-Maud is very lively with impressive bumps and grinds as Pharoah, aside from being unintelligible when singing.

I must confess reviewing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is like reviewing popcorn—which they sold at the theater so you could munch while you bopped to the music. It’s an entertainment that just washes over your head. The production values are very high and are meant to dazzle more than anything.

Subtlety is not its strong point, and there is a wonderful subtle moment that seems to wiz by. When Joseph sings “Any Dream Will Do….” There are these lyrics:

“May I return to the beginning

The Light is dimming, and the dream is too

The world and I, we are still waiting

Still hesitating

Any Dream Will Do.”

At that moment Joseph, played by an actor who is white, and the Narrator, who is an actress who is Black, stand on the stage side by side, holding hands.

If that isn’t a dream of equality, then I don’t know what is.

They even pause in the song so that the moment has our focus, but because everything is so overplayed and overblown in this musical, I’m not sure that moment is realized for what it is.

I guess that’s why one needs theatre critics to point it out.

Comment. Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat is light entertainment as substantial as popcorn, gourmet popcorn, but still popcorn all the same.

Mirvish Productions presents:

Plays until: February 18, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, (1 intermission)

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