Reviewing Joseph: a Double-Take on a Biblical Hit

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opened Wednesday at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul. TC Jewfolk founders Emily and Leora might have been sitting in exceeding close proximity to each other while watching the same show, but they walked away with dramatically different reactions to the Ordway’s multi-color hippie rendition of the Broadway sensation.
L: I’m biased. I grew up on “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door,” listening to those songs from the Broadway version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on a casette tape on my Walkman as I walked to school. I knew every word, every song. I could mimic Donny Osmond’s (as Joseph) long notes, and the narrator’s sweet ones. I saw Donny at the Ordway in 1992 on the Broadway tour of the show, and even got his autograph. I was in the ensemble in the St. Paul JCC’s version of the show when I was in 6th grade. I’m a Joseph junkie.
E: Wow. Every word. Really? Sure, I know the biblical history (ok, at a Cliff’s Notes level) and definitely got the pop culture stuff. But the musical? New to me. And only know one song thanks to my 6th grade lip sync contest where the class geek did “Close Every Door” in a toga. Hmm…does that make me sound like a mean girl? Moving on…
L: I was optimistic going in. I give the Ordway props for trying to reinvent the show. It is a bit old, perhaps even outdated in its style (although that hasn’t been a challenge for the Ordway in the past – they totally rocked it on the 1950s South Pacific this fall). But something was missing. I felt myself comparing everything to the Broadway version and coming up disappointed. Outside of the supporting actors, like Joseph’s brothers, who were hilarious and stole the show, I wasn’t impressed.
E: Really? I kinda wanted to get the cd for my very own sing-a-longs. Speaking of – how cool would it have been if the words were put up above the stage so that everybody could sing along? Just like you and the little kid rocking out across the aisle from us.
L: Love the idea of an Ordway sing-a-long. And hey, I contained myself and didn’t sing while I was there. I promised my date. The six-year-old dancing nearby us was hilarious though. Maybe families are the best audience for this show. The kids were cracking up around us, and the super cute girl behind us couldn’t stop sniffling at the sad parts.
E: I think the kids liked how un-boring the show is. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I LOVED how this production mixed it up with different musical styles. There was some country hoe-down (a la Oklahoma) on “One More Angel in Heaven,” a little Moulin Rouge French hotness (but with a tango?) for “Those Canaan Days” and then we rocked out Caribbean-style to “Benjamin Calypso.” Wait…are you singing right now?
L: Yes. I’m singing as I’m typing this. The songs are uber catchy. But the funny thing is that the cool music you mention is in the original. The Ordway didn’t reinvent those songs. Andrew Lloyd Webber is just a genius. The only song that the Ordway’s version really played with was the last one, the “Joseph Megamix” finale.  The Ordway threw in some hip hop, pop, techno, and mizrahit in the last song, but I almost thought it was a bit over the top. There is no doubt in my mind that the music in this show is awesome, regardless of which version you see – Broadway or Ordway. I’m with you there.
E: I thought the megamix was awesome but I’ll agree to disagree with you on that one. Speaking of music – Let’s not forget the kids’ choir. Really great voices. And I could hear their diction much better than some of the other cast members. Not sure if it was a a mic issue but there were times that I couldn’t pick up the words from the songs. That was really my only complaint. I know your date said the same thing – of course, you didn’t notice. You knew every. single. word.
L: Yeah, the kids’ choir was awesome. Really neat to have their energy on stage. And let’s talk about that stage. What did you think about all the lights and stuff?
E: Wow. “Stuff” is such a technical term. I thought the Yellow Submarine-inspired set design was perfect. It was colorful and fun enough to help those of us in the audience who are too old to still have a fully-functioning imagination. And yet it wasn’t over the top so it really framed the performance rather than distracting from it, just like a good set should.
L: Agreed. And I have to admit I liked the lighting. Even the disco ball. Other things I loved? T. Mychael Rambo was commanding as Jacob and weird in a fabulous way as Potiphar. Jennifer Paz as the narrator was both able to unite the cast and not overshadow it. And her voice was awesome. But the miss for me was that Joseph is supposed to be the rockstar the unites the whole production. Donny Osmond did that. Anthony Fed0rov? Not quite.
E: Yes! But what bugged me more than anything about Fedorov was a blond playing Joseph. I know it’s been done before but that doesn’t mean it should be done again. It’s kind of a like a blond Jesus. But that’s a whole different tangent. So where does Fedorov the Blond leave us? I think it’s time for an impromptu Maccabee-Cornell Talent Agency casting session. Who would you love to see in the role?
L: A sexy Israeli. Seriously. We’re talking about Canaan here. Joseph should be a hot mizrahi boy. Long, brown hair. Ripped. Good voice. Charisma. Is that too much to ask?
E: Oooh – sounds like a scene from Kokhav Nolad (Israel’s Pop Idol). I nominate Boaz Mauda with Harel Skaat as understudy. Either way, we’d get our wish. Ah, but that’s just a pipe dream. So guess we have to settle for what we got. Which, in my mind deserves 5 stars and a huge recommendation to the Jewfolk (and everybody else) to go see this show.
L: Really? Hmmm… My recommendation? If you haven’t seen the show before, and you can score discounted tix (click here for more info on discounts to this show), then it’s worth going. Especially if you have kids. For those of you who, like me, are diehard Joseph fans, this production might not be for you. Save your cash and don’t miss the Ordway’s next show, which I’m sure will be awesome.

Joseph runs through January 2nd at the Ordway. TC Jewfolk was given complimentary tickets to see/review the show but that didn’t influence our opinions, as you can tell.

(Photo: Peter B. Myers, via Ordway Center for the Performing Arts)