REVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Andy Blankenbuehler's direction and choreography bring new life to the classic musical.

Laura Helm (center) with the ensemble.

Laura Helm (center) with the ensemble.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has origins as early as 1968, when Andrew Lloyd Webber was asked to write a “pop cantata” for St. Paul’s Junior School. That first version of the now iconic musical was only 15 minutes long.

Needless to say, the show has become something of a feel-good staple for schools, community theaters, and, yes, a countless number of professional Broadway tours. The story is simple and ultimately uplifting, and the score is unquestionably that of early Andrew Lloyd Webber. With that said, I wasn’t expecting much out of the new production, which has planted itself here in Philly at the Merriam Theatre through the new year, but the dynamic direction and choreography by Broadway superstar Andy Blankenbuehler (responsible for the movement in the mega-hit Hamilton) breathe new, modern life into the musical.

The style here is, unquestionably, Blaneknbuehler’s: Many of the larger numbers infuse a playful mixture of hip-hop and pop dancing, and the overall look of the production is a fusion between the old and new. For instance, the cast is dressed in modern clothes for the opening number, with Joseph holding a MacBook. Throughout the production, the brothers don pieces of colorful, traditional garments with some 21st-century touches, such as brown high-top sneakers or below-the-knee shorts. Also, the production utilizes a good deal of video projections that make the rather flat, simplistic set come alive.

The cast is, indeed, of mixed talent. No doubt, Laura Helm‘s Narrator is the glorious winner of the evening as she brings powerhouse vocals and a truly captivating presence to the production for the entire show (she, quite literally, never leaves the stage, except for very brief moments). Also quite outstanding is Peter Surace as Simeon. His Act Two number “Those Canaaan Days” caused the crowd to give a raucous ovation in the middle of the scene on the night I went.

JC McCann, who plays the title character, lends warm vocals to numbers like “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do,” but lacks a defining presence throughout the show. Very problematic is Joe Ventricelli‘s Pharaoh, played in the traditional Elvis-like style of the character. The lyrics to his huge number “Song of the King” are almost impossible to understand due to a lack of enunciation.

Nevertheless, the show is overwhelmingly enjoyable and the energy from the ensemble nearly blows through the roof at the Merriam. If you’re looking for a family-friendly way to ring in 2016, this is clearly the way to do it. In short, to borrow the lyrics of one of the most iconic songs from the show, go, go, go see it.

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” plays the Merriam Theatre now through January 3. For tickets and more information, click here.