Theatre review: 'Joseph' is bloated with sensory overload

For the News-DemocratMay 2, 2014 

Given an extreme makeover, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is exaggerated with fancy visual effects, over-the-top musical numbers, and bombastic sound for its latest national tour.

Playing at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis through May 11, this slight Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical has had a remarkable long life, popular with schools and community theaters because of its family appeal and colorful re-telling of the Biblical story.

Straight from the Old Testament, Joseph is wronged by his other brothers, and winds up a prince in Egypt. Wisdom is dispensed along with pop, hip-hop, country, calypso, rock and French novelty musical numbers.

Because this is such a mixed-bag, your acceptance of the mishmash of styles and hyper-kinetic activity will determine whether you are merrily applauding at the show's end, or leaving with a puzzled look on your face. I saw both.

In the same manner that "Godspell" keeps current with the latest trends and improvisation, "Joseph" is often interpreted differently -- no two seem to be alike. But this time, its pop opera freshness has been tampered with beyond recognition.

Oh, it's chock-full of cheerful, peppy performers who work overtime trying to entertain the crowd. It could be described as the "Glee" version, with a nod to the Cheerios, so it's no surprise Tony-winning director Andrew Blankenbuehler ("In the Heights"), also directed and choreographed "Bring It On."

Blankenbuehler has infused the dance numbers with crisp movements and high energy, and they are impressive.

The main characters are also uneven. The best of the bunch is Ryan Williams who steals the show as a charismatic Pharoah, having fun with the Elvis schtick, a real crowd-pleaser. Will Mann, who was so memorable when he was here on tour with "Memphis," displays his powerful, soulful voice as Judah. Paul Castree has a breakout moment with "Those Canaan Days" as does Brian Golub with "One More Angel in Heaven."

As for the two celebrity leads, "American Idol" alums Ace Young as Joseph and Diana DeGarmo as the Narrator are underwhelming. The married couple have model smiles and he has the appropriate chiseled physique. But his voice was nasally and her vocals didn't relay more feeling than a beauty pageant contestant. Sure they have Broadway credentials, but their previous efforts at the Fox were ordinary as well -- he was in the awful "Grease" a few years ago, and she was in "9 to 5."

The modern approach in the beginning is confusing, and at times throughout there are projections of locomotives, dolphins and sun -- I think -- on white choral gowns.

Ultimately, the show's sensory overload winds up to be too much. The good news? The running time is short -- and still feels bloated!

At a glance

What: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

When: through May 11

Where: Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Tickets: 314-534-1111 or www.fabulousfox.com

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