REVIEW: New kid on the block
Review from Stage Door
We've said it before, and our enthusiasm continues unabated: "The most enjoyable show of the year!" The original Joseph, Donny Osmond, donned his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, at the Elgin Theatre in 1992. That was the North American premiere of Joseph in its current guise, and since then Mr Osmond has paraded his diaper and parti-coloured robe for five years across the continent, breaking box office and attendance records at every stop. Osmond has gone and their is a new kid on the block.
Osmond has passed his technicolor tog to Los Angeles native David Burnham who combines drop dead good looks, a strong and lyrical tenor voice, and a magnetic stage presence to make one say...Donny who? Happily, Burnham is an exuberant young man who has lived up to the plethora of advance hype and will no doubt have Livent honcho Garth Drabinsky smiling all the way to the bank. Burnham has loads of fun on stage, even making light of his final act of soaring over the audience, the coat of many colours trailing resplendently behind him in a blaze of glory. You can't keep the smile of this guy's face.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is not just a kids' show, although that is how it all began in 1967. Sir Andrew (then just a Mr) was asked to compose a "pop cantata" for St Paul's Junior School's Easter concert. In collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice, Joseph appeared and was an instant hit, all 20 minutes of it, and then retired into quiet obscurity. Fuelled by the critical and financial success of their Jesus Christ Superstar collaboration, however, Webber revived it in the mid-seventies, eventually hitting Broadway in 1982. A hard sell, however, at under half an hour, it wasn't until the "new" production premiered in 1991 in London (now a full length "Children's Oratorio") that it really took off. Livent snatched up the rights for North America, pulled Donny Osmond from the shelf of nearly forgotten teen idols, and made history with history.
The biblical story of Joseph, son of Jacob of Canaan, is told in Genesis. It begins with the young, self-centred Joseph announcing to his father and brothers his double dreams of their obeisance to him. When braggart Joseph visits his brothers as they tend the flocks, they decide to kill him and he ultimately falls into the hands of traders who sell him to the Egyptian Potiphar, captain of the guard. His brothers, however, tell dad that his son is dead, and give him Joseph's bloodstained garment, a preferential gift from his father, traditionally translated as "a coat of many colours." Later, in prison, Joseph's ability to interpret dreams brings him to the Pharaoh's notice. Interpreting the Pharaoh's dreams as foretelling seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, Joseph is put in charge of preparing for the drought. The famine causes Jacob and his sons to travel to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph's brothers do not recognize him, and through a series of trials and tests, the family is reunited by the repentance and restraint of its members.
The musical version is jam-packed with excitement, energy, and musical variety. There's country (One More Angel in Heaven), there's Elvis (Song of the King), there's French-bistro (Those Canaan Days), there's Disco-rock (Go, Go, Go Joseph) and there's even Benjamin Calypso. And of course some typical Webber, too: Any Dream Will Do and the moving Close Every Door.
The story is held together by the Narrator, Kelli James Chase, back again in this tour after taking a few months off. Chase, while being the glue that holds the story together and a great talent, sometimes screeches in the upper registers of the score. In strong support are Johnny Seaton, whose gyrations are still knocking them dead as Pharaoh ("The King") as he did in the 1992 premiere, albeit in a more love-handled "older Elvis" incarnation, and, James Harms in the multi-role of Jacob / Potiphar / Guru. Steven Pimlott is the director that keeps the pace pulsing, and Mark Thompson is the creative talent behind the set and costume designs. And did we mention the children's choirs? There are four of them, alternating performances, serving both to entertain and to bring the "spectacle" down to an irresistibly endearing human scale.