Don’t give up, Joseph, fight till you drop! We’ve read the book, and you come out on top!
If Dr. Seuss had ever written a musical, it would’ve been Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat…
“Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” began its life in 1967. It was written as a 15-minute commissioned piece for a school in London by 20-year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics written by 23-year-old Tim Rice. The work was expanded several times until it reached its current format in 1973. It was first performed on Broadway in 1982 and ran for 747 performances. The title character (Joseph, not the coat) has been played by the likes of David Cassidy, Andy Gibb (yes, Andy Gibb of the Brothers Gibb of Bee Gees fame), Jason Donovan, and Michael Damien. Now, in this made-for-video production, former teen heartthrob Donny Osmond portrays Joseph. (To be fair, Donny played him for over six months in a London stage production.) If you’re unfamiliar with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s other works, he’s responsible for mega-hit musicals such as “The Phantom Of The Opera,” “Cats,” and “Evita.” Tim Rice has worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on several other musicals, and he also collaborated with Elton John and Hans Zimmer for the music in Disney’s The Lion King.
My first exposure to “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was my freshman year in college. The little school I attended did yearly musical productions that for budgetary reasons were probably smaller than most high school productions. That particular year, the school put on “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I went to one performance, and rather enjoyed it, but I paid a bit more attention to the cute girl sitting in front on me (who, by the way, is now my wife). When I received it on DVD, the first thing that struck my eye was that Donny Osmond was in it…shivers went down my spine. I’m not a fan of the Osmonds in any of their incarnations. The disc went into my player once, right after I received it. My wife laughed at me for watching it, I retaliated by making her watch South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut, we got into a fight over it…’twas not a pretty sight. It took me some time to get over the trauma to be able to watch it in its entirety.
Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat takes its story from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Joseph was the eleventh son (out of twelve) of Jacob, the sire of the Jewish nation. Joseph was the first son born to Jacob by his favorite wife, and thus Joseph became his father’s favorite son, much to his brothers’ disappointment. So, his brothers sold Joseph into slavery and told their father that wild animals killed him. Meanwhile, Joseph found his way to Egypt, where (to make a long story short) he comes into the favor of the pharaoh and becomes the second-in-charge of the land. During seven years of famine, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt seeking food. There (again, making a long story short) they learn of Joseph’s newfound power, and the family is reunited. Never mind that that sets in motion 400 years of Hebrew slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, until they are led out of Egypt by Charlton Heston…err, Moses.
You might see how the story lends itself to a musical’s two-act structure: the fall of Joseph, and the redemption of Joseph. The story is told exclusively through song, with a (singing) narrator filling in the gaps. Many of the songs share common musical themes, but nearly all of them come from a different musical genre, such as “One More Angel In Heaven” (twangy country), “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” (60s go-go music, aptly enough), “Song Of The King” (as in, Elvis), and “Benjamin Calypso” (do you have to be told it’s a calypso number?). These genres were fresh and in vogue in 1967 and could seem dated by today’s standards, but good musicals have a timeless quality and “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is no exception.
The production of “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” presented on the DVD was developed out of a stage production that was running in London at the time. For the home video version, sets were erected at the Pinewood Studios in England. It plays as a hybrid of a film musical and a stage production. It relies on the sets, costumes, and makeup common in stage productions, while utilizing the multiple camera angles and post-production editing available to the film medium (including looping — watch the documentary for several shots of the chorus recording the songs).
My fear of Donny Osmond was unfounded. Joseph’s age ranges from eighteen to forty in the span of 78 minutes, going from naïve teenager to stern ruler of Egypt. Osmond has the bearing and physical presence to be able to carry off the part admirably. The supporting cast is sprinkled with at least two familiar faces. The patriarch Jacob is portrayed by Lord Richard Attenborough, accomplished actor (Jurassic Park being the least of his roles) and director (he won the Best Director Academy Award for Gandhi). Joan Collins of “Dynasty” fame plays Potiphar’s wife (she causes Joseph to be thrown in prison while in Egypt). I thought I recognized the guy who played Potiphar, Ian McNeice, but I had him mixed up with Glenn Shadix of Beetlejuice and Demolition Man. The chubby proportions and white streak in the hair had me confused. Perhaps best of all is the woman who plays the Narrator, Maria Friedman. The Narrator has as much (if not more) screen time as Joseph, but has the task of tying the entire story together, so the role is perhaps more important than Donny Osmond’s. Friedman is a gifted British stage actress and singer, and quite attractive to boot. Her performance won me over, making me enjoy a film I perhaps would not have enjoyed otherwise.
Universal presents Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as a solid DVD package. Video is presented in 1.55:1 widescreen. This decision confounds me. It was shot in the Academy Standard Flat ratio, which is (roughly) the same aspect ratio as your average 4:3 television. Why reformat the picture by letterboxing it? It’s not like there’s any sort of original aspect ratio to be preserved. All you’re doing is creating small black bands at the top and bottom of the screen. Now mind you, I love movies presented in widescreen, and I don’t support pan-n-scan, but this presentation just strikes me as odd. No matter. The movie is just as colorful as the title would lead you to believe. The picture shows great detail, and the colors are accurate and perfect. Audio is presented both in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. I skimped a bit when I purchased my home theatre equipment, so I can’t test the DTS track. The Dolby Digital track is recorded at the highest possibly bitrate, and sounds fantastic. The rear channels are hardly used at all (I only noticed them during the go-go percussion of “Go, Go, Go Joseph”), but the subwoofer is in near-constant use for the score. According to Widescreen Review, the DTS track is recorded at the 768kbps bitrate. Extras consist of a 30-minute making-of documentary, and several text-based, very informative bits. If there’s something you want to know about the history of “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” or the making of the video production, it’s covered in one of the extras. It’s quite impressive.
Despite my general dislike of Donny Osmond and musicals in general, I can’t really find anything bad to say about Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It’s a disc that should be accessible and enjoyable to (almost) anyone.
This isn’t a large complaint, but it’s another thing that strikes me as odd. Considering that Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is aimed at a family, all-ages audience, why would Universal enable the parental lock feature? Afraid the kiddies might try to sell their siblings into slavery?
Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be best loved by those who enjoy the musical, plus it’s a great way to introduce children to the world of stage productions. Its $29.98 suggested price seems a bit steep, but it would be well worth a purchase to those who would enjoy it.