‘Joseph’ is ‘Amazing’ at The Muny

‘Joseph’ is ‘Amazing’ at The Muny

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The broiling St. Louis heat did not dampen the spirits of the cast, crew, orchestra and 11,000 cheering and clapping fans at The Muny’s highly entertaining production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” with haunting music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and memorable lyrics by Tim Rice.  In this, the fifth production of the Genesis-inspired musical classic, based on the biblical career of Joseph and his brothers, every aspect of the show is flawless, with truly outstanding performances by Justin Guarini in the challenging lead role as Joseph and Mamie Parris is perfect in the even more demanding role of the Narrator, whose lyrics keep the show moving forward.

By a fortuitous coincidence, the recent weekly Torah Portions have dealt with the story of Joseph, the favorite son of the Patriarch Jacob, the child of Jacob’s older years and the first of his two sons by his beloved Rachel.  Jacob recognizes Joseph as gifted, but instead of wisely mentoring his son not to lord it over his brothers, Jacob sets Joseph up by giving him a “coat of many colors,” and making it obvious that he is his favorite.  When Joseph shares with his brothers two dreams that he has had which make it clear that he anticipates that one day they will bow down to him, they hatch an evil plot to sell him into slavery and deceive their  father Jacob that Joseph was killed, torn apart by wild beasts.

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The story of Joseph’s emergence from the pit of slavery and later imprisonment on false charges brought by his master Potiphar’s wife, when he spurns her seductions, and his use of the same gift for interpreting dreams which triggered his brothers’ rage to help the tormented Pharaoh understand his nightmares, is made to order for a modern operatic treatment.  The show unfolds in a breathtaking, non-stop bravura production, which fills the ample Muny stage with continuous, high-energy action.

The production is directed and choreographed with verve and style by Lara Teeter, with outstanding scenic design by Steve Gilliam, musical direction by Michael Horsley, superb lighting by Seth Jackson and costume design by Robin L. McGee.  Ample use is made of the new large screen TV backdrop, including clever St. Louis references.  When Jacob’s once-prosperous family is described in song, an image of “Jacob & Sons Food & Pharmacy” is shown superimposed over a Schnucks market.  There are also clever local references to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ted Drewes and other local icons, blended seamlessly into the action.

Gary Glascow is excellent in the dual role as Jacob and Potiphar, Joseph’s master, and Austin Miller is a riot as the Elvis-clone Pharaoh.

Another stand-out is Maurice Murray as Judah, whose courage in standing up for his brother Benjamin proves to Joseph that his brothers had redeemed themselves for selling him into slavery and telling their father he had been killed. Murray is in superb, powerful voice in the song, “Benjamin’s Gospel.”

In addition to being highly entertaining—a genuine all-ages crowd-pleaser — “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is entirely faithful to the Joseph narrative in the Book of Genesis.  At one point, when Joseph is in a dank Egyptian prison for a crime he did not commit, and is in the depths of despair, the Narrator and chorus reassure him that things will work out. “Don’t worry, Joseph.  We read the Book and you come out on top.”

Indeed Joseph does come out on top, rising to second in command to Pharaoh and reuniting not only with his brothers but with his beloved father Jacob, and inviting the family to settle in the land of Goshen, where they will live peacefully until “there arose a Pharaoh, who knew not Joseph,” setting the stage for the career of another Biblical figure, Moses.

Do yourself a favor.  Bring plenty of bottled water and Gatorade and treat yourself to an outstanding Muny production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  You will not be disappointed.