If the Joseph of the Old Testament lived
in modern times, there’s no doubt Oprah, Jerry and Ricky would
all offer him spots on their TV shows. The story of a young man
who is sold into slavery by his brothers and later rises to fame
as an interpreter of dreams and the pharaoh’s advisor, would
be irresistible to them.
Unfortunately, Joseph died several millennia before television was invented, but two enterprising men of the theater, lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, did realize the dramatic potential of Joseph’s story and turned it into the highly successful international hit "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
This season, the Gallery Players have chosen "Dreamcoat" for one of their musical presentations. And even those who often find Webber either bombastic or schmaltzy will find this production, which is on stage now through Feb. 3, truly amazing.
In the first place, "Dreamcoat" shows off Webber and Rice at their best. The music is catchy. The dance is colorful. The well-known plot provides a firm structure but is never intrusive. And the Gallery Players have found an inventive and exhilarating director in Anthony King, who in turn has put together a talented and enthusiastic cast of actors who we can only hope will someday break a leg on Broadway.
The story of the making of "Dreamcoat" is a miracle in itself. In 1968, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had been collaborating for two years, after being brought together by Webber’s agent Desmond Elliot. They had written a musical and several songs, but as of yet, none of their projects had been staged.
When the director of the choir at Colet Court School commissioned a 15-minute work on a vague religious subject, it was not exactly what they had in mind to launch their partnership, but nonetheless, they took on the project.
The March 1, 1968 performance at the school was so successful that Rice and Webber added five minutes of material and a rock band, and staged the revised show at the Central Hall, Westminster. Sunday Times critic Derek Jewell saw the show and gave it a favorable review.
A third production, now 35 minutes long, opened on Nov. 9 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Around this time, the play was recorded. When impresario David Land heard the album, he signed up Webber and Rice to write a full-length play. Under his guidance, the duo also wrote "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar."
After several more productions in England and an expansion to 90 minutes, the play was brought to New York, where in 1976 it opened at our own Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 1981, the play was brought to an East Village theater where it ran for 77 performances before moving to the Royale Theatre on Broadway on Jan. 27, 1982, where it ran for 747 performances.
In the Gallery Players’ production, the devil is in the details: a vain Joseph (Kevin Loreque) ironing his coat of many colors, the brothers riding mop horses. Costume designer Megan Rhoads has made a huge contribution in bringing out the tongue-in-cheek fun of the play. The brothers all wear T-shirts with numbers, and of course, Joseph’s bears the number "1." At one point a few brothers wear tutus over their chinos; if you don’t get it, don’t worry, neither does anyone in the play.
Suzanne Gilad, in a sedate and elegant pantsuit, is the reasoned narrator with the great voice, who steps in and out of the dancing and singing with as much gleeful assurance as a kid with a cookie jar when no one’s at home. She and Joseph appear in almost every scene, but the play is clearly an ensemble piece depending on the energy and synergy of the entire cast of brothers and their wives, and a fair amount of doubling up on roles.
Not surprisingly, the Gallery Players are at their best when Rice and Webber are at theirs. And, like it or not, the composer and lyricist are strongest when they imitate and parody very recognizable musical genres: country and western in "One More Angel in Heaven," French cabaret in the show-stopping "Those Canaan Days," you guessed it in "Benjamin Calypso," and the sidesplitting Elvis imitation performed by Kyle Redd as the hip-gyrating Pharaoh.
Not least on the list of credits are the musicians - musical director and pianist Kenneth Gartman and drummer Mary Rodriguez.
If you have $200 to spend on a pair of theater tickets, go to a Broadway show. But if you’d like to have an evening or afternoon every bit as exciting and entertaining for $30, take a friend to see "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at the Gallery Players.
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" plays through Feb. 3, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $15, $12 children under 12 and seniors. The theater is located at 199 14th St. For reservations, call (718) 595-0547.