Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Theater Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Location: The Players Theatre, 115 Macdougal Street, New York, NY

Website: Official Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project site

Starring: Miguel Sierra, Nadiene Jacques, Elizabeth Flanagan, Patrick Marran, Paul Campione

My Review: There were two things that I kept reminding myself of before attending the Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:

  • Small theater groups like this operate on a tight budget, so don’t expect the same kind of production values you’d see at a Broadway show.
  • Joseph is a very silly show.

And all of this was true about the BTAP production. But luckily, Joseph is low-tech enough that elaborate costumes, fancy lighting, and expensive staging effects aren’t needed. However, when putting on such a low-tech, low-budget show, you really need to make sure your cast shines, which is where the BTAP productions falls short.

If you’re not already familiar with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and can’t put two and two together based on the title, it tells the infamous Bible tale of Joseph, his coat, and his jealous brothers. It’s an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, which of course means it’s a musical, and that the quality of the music is up for much debate. (I admit that I enjoy most of Webber’s musicals, and no, I don’t care that the key theme from The Phantom of the Opera is just chromatic scales.) Joseph is one of his earlier works and is written like a parable being told to children. Through a variety of musical styles, including country-western, power ballad, calypso, and disco, the story of Joseph unfolds. He was his father’s favorite and an interpreter of dreams, which annoyed his eleven brothers, who sell him into slavery and tell dad that he’s dead. Joseph then finds himself on a journey that includes being a slave, landing in jail, assisting Pharaoh with a puzzling problem, and eventually become Pharaoh’s right-hand man. And as the title says, there’s also a crazy multi-colored coat involved.

With a show that relies so heavily on one character, you better make sure the actor playing that role is a strong player. But Miguel Sierra as Joseph is just not strong enough to pull it off. With his weak singing voice and lack of a commanding presence, it’s nearly impossible to truly feel bad for his plight and then later rejoice when he triumphs over it all. Rather than coming across as an innocent dreamer, oblivious to how his father’s favoritism makes his brothers feel, Sierra’s Joseph seems to relish in the attention and seems more like a whiny brat than anything else, so you can hardly blame his brothers for finally having enough of him. It also doesn’t help his cause that several of the actors in the chorus of brothers are stronger players and singers, and more charismatic, which made me like them more than Joseph. Tear his coat and fling him in a pit! Go, go, go Brothers!

After Joseph, the most prominently featured role is the female narrator, a role that is shared by two women in this production. Since it’s not much of an acting part, all that’s needed is someone with a nice voice to clearly sing the story to the audience. One of the narrators got this right, while the other chose to perform in an overreaching, shrill operatic soprano voice. Not only was it nearly impossible to understand most of what she sang, it was occasionally painful to hear. Luckily I was already familiar with the Joseph soundtrack, and could mentally fill in the holes where her lyrics were indecipherable.

As I mentioned before, Joseph’s eleven brothers were the highlight of this show. They appear in a fair number of song and dance numbers, each of which was high energy, ably performed, and just downright fun to watch. Some of the featured soloists would have made a much stronger Joseph, which makes me wonder how the casting decisions were made. Did Sierra just look better shirtless—which is how Joseph spends most of the show? I would have much preferred a slightly flabbier Joseph that had a great voice than a skinny Joseph with no conviction. It’s much easier to suspend your disbelief on body type than on a musical lead with questionable musical abilities.

Bottom Line: The BTAP production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has already ended its run, which I suppose makes this review relatively pointless. But nonetheless, I found the show to be lacking in too many key areas to be truly enjoyable. I can always look past a shoestring production with paper backdrops and shoddy costumes if the talent is there to emotionally connect you with the story. But when the biggest connection you have is with the jealous second bananas of the show, you know something has gone awry.


  1. Closed before they could get the tongue-lashing they deserved, eh? If nothing else, thanks to the power of the Internet, this review will live on...and maybe people will end up finding it when they're thinking about going to Miguel Sierra's next performance.

  2. Well, they're a small theater company who had only rented space to perform the show for three weekends, so it's not like it was an open-run that closed early. And you say "tongue-lashing," I say "shrewd observations."