Muny’s ‘Joseph’ illuminates stage

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Way back in the summer of 1967, Andrew Lloyd Webber, before he became world famous, was asked by Alan Doggett, head of the Music Department at Colet Court, St. Paul’s Junior School, who had taught his younger brother Julian, to write a “pop cantata” for the school choir to sing at the end of term spring concert. Webber hit upon the idea of the powerful story of Joseph and his coat of many colors as the theme, and asked his friend Tim Rice if he would write the lyrics for the project. The result was the incredible, durable and loveable Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which went on to be one of the most popular musicals of all time, and which has come to the huge stage of The Muny in a breathtaking, non-stop bravo production, which runs through Aug. 5.

Webber, who would later create such other mega-hits as Jesus Christ Superstar, The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard, is nearly completely faithful to the story of Joseph, the favorite son of his father Jacob, which triggered jealousy among his less-favored brothers, who sold him into Egyptian slavery, where he ended up in prison and later, because of his gift of being able to interpret dreams, became second-in-command to the Pharoah.

ADVERTISEMENT

The story of Joseph is told in the Book of Genesis, Chapters 37-46, and the powerful narrative was a perfect candidate for the musical talents of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the rapid-fire, amusing and highly intelligent lyrics of Tim Rice. With a stellar cast headed by Muny favorite Eric Kunze as Joseph and Liz Callaway as the all-important narrator, the show is given superb direction and musical staging by Pamela Hunt, with outstanding, high-voltage choreograhy by Darren Lee. The production values, which take full advantage of The Muny’s incredibly large stage, reflect the talents of Steve Gilliam’s scenic design; David Lander’s lighting design; musical direction by Michael Horsley; sound design by Jason Krueger and the production stage management by Peter Hynds. The costumes range from the pastel T-shirts and tan slacks worn by the adorable Children’s Ensemble to the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Elvis-like outfits of the Pharoah, by Kansas City Costume. Paul Blake serves as the executive producer of The Muny, and his affectionate local references to St. Louis classics such as the Arch and Schnucks enhance the good-natured humor of the script and songs.

Eric Kunze is perfect in the title role as Joseph, who in Genesis is described as incredibly handsome and gifted. Kunze repeats his stunning portrayal of Jacob’s favorite son for the third time on The Muny stage. Previously, Kunze pleased Muny audiences with title roles in Jesus Christ Superstar, Miss Saigon and West Side Story. Kunze also possesses a powerful voice and excellent stage presence and poise. When a microphone failed at the start of a crucial solo, Narrator Liz Callaway calmly reached for a hand-held mike from the orchestra pit, and he went on to unleash a powerful delivery of Any Dream Will Do.

Liz Callaway as the narrator makes her Muny debut in Dreamcoat. She is perfect for the demanding role, and her outstanding singing, dancing and acting reflect her Broadway credits of such hits as Hair, Miss Saigon, The Three Musketeers, Baby and Cats. She also provided the voice of the Adult Kiara in Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. The role of the narrator is crucial to fulfilling Webber’s and Rice’s vision of a non-stop, operatic retelling of one of the most dramatic stories in the Hebrew Bible.

Jacob favored Joseph over his other 11 sons because he had been born to him in his old age, and also because he was his first son by his wife Rachel, whom he truly was in love with; Rachel would later die giving birth to Jacob’s youngest son Benjamin. Not only was Joseph favored by Jacob, but was presented with a glorious “coat of many colors,” or an “ornamented cloak,” which only increased the envy of his brothers. The young Joseph was born with the gift of interpreting dreams, some 3,400 years before Sigmund Freud would write his book The Interpretation of Dreams. When Joseph told his brothers of dreams in which it appeared that they would one day bow down to him, the result was the cruel plot to sell him into slavery and tell their father he had been torn to pieces by a beast, presenting Jacob with the bloody Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

James Anthony is excellent playing the parts of Jacob and Potiphar, the wealthy Egyptian who buys Joseph, only to have his wife fail in her efforts to seduce him, which results in Joseph being sent to prison. David Hibbard is truly wonderful in the campy, Elvis-lives role of the Pharoah — the King, and his time on the stage is highly entertaining. Daryl Getman as Mrs. Potiphar performs a wonderfully erotic dance of failed seduction which can’t tempt the self-disciplined Joseph.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a non-stop, highly enjoyable retelling of the story of Joseph and his brothers. At two hours including intermission, the action zooms by, and the production is very family-friendly. The Muny’s 2007 season, which has included outstanding productions of Oklahoma, Grease, and The Pajama Game, really reached a peak with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the season will close next week with The Muny’s debut production of Les Miserables. Do not miss Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; you will not be disappointed.

(Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will complete its run on Aug. 5. For information and tickets call 314-361-1900, ext. 308 or 319).

Sign up for Your Morning Light