Joseph, How Can We Ever Thank You?
Written by Kayla Ann Mullins on March 4, 2020
Andrew Lloyd Webber is known for being one of the most prolific composers to grace the modern stage. I’m sure most of the recent news you’ve heard about him was in relation to the movie adaptation of one of his bigger shows: Cats. Admittedly I have not seen the new Cats movie, although I am quite a fan of the original musical. However I do not want to talk about any version of Cats today. Today I want to talk about one of Lloyd Webber’s biblical musicals: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor DreamCoat, or commonly just known as Joseph. Joseph has music by Lloyd Webber (of course) and lyrics by Tim Rice and recently celebrated its 50th birthday.
Joseph was the first musical I saw live. It is one of my favorite shows. Joseph is mostly an opera, with very few speaking lines. While there have been many different productions, the most accessible is the filmed one starring Donny Osmond as the titular character and Maria Friedman as the narrator. The movie is brilliant. Each of the songs are stunning and the vocals by Osmond and Friedman are effervescent and perfectly executed. Beyond that the show plays with so many different music genres. Joseph’s Dreams has a jazz style at the end, “One More Angel in Heaven” is a country dance piece, “Potiphar” emulates the music of the 1920’s, “Go, Go, Go Joseph” is a seventies go-go song, “Song of the King” is a nod to Elvis’s big hits, “Those Canaan Days” is a heartbreaking french ballad, and finally “Benjamin Calypso” is, in fact, a calypso. That’s seven different musical scenes all in about seventy minutes, not to mention all of the other songs that simply follow the classic broadway style. The movie is also filled with gorgeous sets, hilarious physical comedy, and jaw dropping choreography. I recommend the movie to all– as I’ve said it’s only seventy minutes long and is all available on YouTube.
This leads me to another wonderful thing about Joseph and Lloyd Webber. Lloyd Webber has many very successful Broadway shows. He could make an unbelievable amount of money off of each of these shows. However, Lloyd Webber doesn’t choose to use most of these money making tools. I have always admired how quickly Lloyd Webber releases the rights to his shows. Let me explain. Theaters cannot put on a performance of a show without the rights. Due to this, many shows will not release the rights until the show is no longer on Broadway. This way anyone who wants to see the show has to go all the way to New York to view a performance. Lloyd Webber doesn’t do this. Lloyd Webber will release his rights rather earlier on in the run of his shows. He did it with Joseph too. Lloyd Webber seems to take the selfishness out of theatre. He sees it as an art that ought to be shared amongst all and that is obvious throughout all of his works.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joseph, a one night only concert style performance was staged. Noah Galvin, known for roles in The Real O’Neals, Dear Evan Hansen, and Booksmart, played Joseph in this performance. Many other well known actors were also involved including Tiffany Mann, Orfeh, Brooks Ashmanskas, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Gavin Lee, and many more. This performance attempted to give Joseph a new spin. I wasn’t able to see the whole concert, but multiple videos have been released online, all of which I have watched intently. There are three changes I would like to discuss.
The first is the split of the Narrator. In this concert, the Narrator was played by three different actors: Jessica Vosk, Eden Espinosa, and Alex Newell. On one level I understand this. The concert only rehearsed for a very short period of time and the Narrator is a very large role. However, so is Joseph and he was not divided amongst multiple performers. I think overall this was a bad decision. The Narrator is an equal to Joseph. The two of them play and joke together throughout the whole show. Splitting the Narrator does two things with this relationship. Firstly, it makes the Narrator seem less than Joseph. Secondly, it muddies the fun that the Narrator and Joseph have. The Narrators play with each other more than they do with Joseph. I think this was a change that did not need to happen.
The second is the portrayal of Potipher. Potipher is a millionaire slave owner in the original show. He’s based on an actual historical figure. Joseph becomes his slave and finds that he really likes Potiphar. Potiphar is not a good or bad character, he just helps the story move along. The concert production decided to have Potiphar resemble President Trump. The director of the concert has made his political leanings clear at other moments and it can be confidently stated that he is not a Trump supporter. Thus I can only assume that the goal of this portrayal was to paint President Trump in a poor light. However that is not what happens. Again, as I said, Potiphar is not a bad or good character. I just think that this was a waste of political commentary.
The third and final change was in relation to Joseph himself. Noah Galvin was absolutely amazing as Joseph. His voice was lovely and his dancing and energy were contagious. Another minor thing that I thought was really nice is that Noah Galvin is actually Jewish. He’s a catholic Jew and thus he had grown up with the stories of Joseph and the other characters of the old testament. Galvin wore a kippah, also known as a yarmulke, throughout the whole performance. Donny Osmond, the man who played Joseph in the filmed version of the musical, is a Mormon. Now I don’t believe that makes Osmond’s performance bad in of itself, but Galvin’s ability to relate to the character was palpable.
Overall I really enjoyed what I saw of the 50th anniversary concert. I do think there were some faults, but it was in totality a brilliant tribute to the original show. I also wholeheartedly recommend watching the movie from 1999. Truly, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor DreamCoat is simply an amazing show and suggests everyone watch it at least once.