With minimal effort you can find valid reasons to dismiss “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” the pre-“Jesus Christ Superstar” musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice back when they wrote musicals as concept albums.
But this amiably dumb, low-maintenance retelling of the biblical tale of Joseph and the coat of many colors projects an elementary charm that works on an audience. The lower your expectations the better.
Lloyd Webber and Rice approach the material with a sense of humor and, perhaps for the only time in their collaborative career, avoid a heavy-handed insistence on the supposed seriousness of the undertaking. The show is refreshingly unpretentious.
The touring production that opened Tuesday at Starlight Theatre is cleverly conceived and performed with precision and amped-up showmanship. This show is tricked out with fabulous costumes, dramatic lighting and inventive projections. It plays to the material’s strengths.
The headliners of this road company are Ace Young in the title role and Diana DeGarmo as the Narrator. Young and DeGarmo, two “American Idol” finalists, also happen to be married. Each projects palpable charisma.
They don’t actually sing together, however, until the last few minutes of the show, when they perform a repetition of the prologue with different music.
Lloyd Webber apparently gave Young approval to play with the composition so the two attractive stars could share an intimate performance moment.
Young’s style is broad-brushed and eager-to-please. His acting ability, at least in this role, is limited but he’s so comfortable onstage that he’s always fun to watch. There’s quite a bit of posing and posturing to showcase his chiseled physique.
When he can’t think of what else to do, he flashes his million-dollar smile and shows off a mouthful of gleaming teeth. That appeared to be more than sufficient for the opening-night audience.
DeGarmo, who possesses a truly remarkable pop voice, handles herself well as the Narrator. She brings poise and dignity to a role that can really be anything an actor wants it to be.
The Narrator is the glue that holds the show together and DeGarmo is easily up to the task. She performs throughout with a hand-held microphone — as opposed to the wireless mics worn by the other actors — and its presence places her outside the story as an observer and commentator. It also reminds us of her “American Idol” roots.
The musical follows the basic elements of the Old Testament story: Joseph, favored by his father, is resented by his brothers, who throw him in a pit and tell Jacob that poor Joseph has been killed.
Sold into slavery, Joseph is taken to Egypt. His ability to interpret dreams scores points with Pharaoh, who immediately appoints him to be No. 2.
Ultimately Joseph is reunited with his brothers and father and is sorely tempted to exact revenge. Ultimately he chooses to let bygones be bygones — after all, it was only abandonment and betrayal — and everyone has a big ole happy grin by the end of the show.
Lloyd Webber’s music cleverly switches genres, depending on the needs of the narrative. A little Elvis-style rock ’n’ roll is in the mix, along with country music and numbers that evoke French cabaret and the Caribbean.
Director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who won a Tony Award for “In the Heights,” creates vivid stage pictures with invaluable assistance from costume designer Jennifer Caprio and lighting designer Howell Binkley. Beowulf Boritt’s sets contribute to the visual spectacle. This show has the quality of a pageant.
A nice performance was delivered by understudy Patrick John Moran (for William Thomas Evans). Moran doubles as Jacob and Potiphar. Other standouts were Brian Golub as Reuben and Paul Castree as Simeon.
As is customary with productions of “Joseph,” the actor playing Pharaoh threatens to steal the show and Ryan Williams is no exception. His personification of the Elvis-like king is hilarious.