Review: JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT Dazzles in Imaginative New Production

The production runs through February 18

By: Dec. 19, 2022
Review: JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT Dazzles in Imaginative New Production
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The highly acclaimed production of JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT has made its way to Toronto. Presented now by Mirvish and directed by Laurence Connor, its premise is straightforward - the Narrator (Vanessa Fisher) is retelling the biblical tale of Joseph (Jac Yarrow) to a group of children. How she tells the story is much more energetic than might be expected; alongside the massive cast of over 30 adult and child actors, she guides the tale through several musical genres, a bunch of costume changes, and upbeat dance numbers. Simply put, it's the story of Joseph, a young man who has a gift for deciphering dreams. In doing so, his brothers turn against him and sell him into slavery, which lands him in Egypt working for a captain, and later, the Pharaoh.

The show's massive cast could be overwhelming, but given the scale and spectacle that is JOSEPH... it ends up working well. It also makes the quieter moments, like Joseph's 'Close Every Door' in an empty prison cell, with just a few children looking on, more stark.

It's easy to understand why Yarrow has had so much buzz around his casting in the titular role. He's got all the boyish charm of the self-assured Joseph, and makes the character relatable even when he's not necessarily the most likable - like when he's recalling dreams to his family and more or less saying he's better than his eleven brothers. He's not a perfect character by any means, but for the purpose of this story Joseph is the hero and Yarrow brings heaps of charisma to the role. Aside from that, he's got a clear, toned voice that tears through some widely-known and loved numbers.

While Yarrow might be playing the title character, Fisher is a veritable triple-threat as the Narrator. She brings the heart to the story and that pulse can be felt in every moment, whether she's on stage or not. Fisher has some great mini-quick changes to take on the role of Joseph's father Jacob early on, an Egyptian captain's wife, and more - all of which helps position her as more of a main player than a bystander recounting a story.

The second act is more or less opened with one of the biggest showstoppers of the night, as the Pharaoh (Tosh Wanogho-Maud) recounts a strange dream to Joseph in hopes of having the meaning deciphered. It's an over-the-top, spectacle of a number that's all Vegas-style flash, but Wanogho-Maud's voice goes above and beyond, jumping from deep baritone and rough edge to high, 1950s rock-and-roll belting. It's unfortunate that the audio mixing throughout the show seemed a bit off, but it was especially noticeable in this number, as it was tough to understand what the lyrics to the song were.

With such a massive cast it's hard to call out each member, but there's a great seamlessness to how this ensemble interact with one another that helps make this large production of JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT possible. As Reuben (Matt Gibson) leads the crew of brothers through a hilarious, square-danced 'One More Angel in Heaven'. Simeon (Will Hawksworth) takes charge in the second act's lamentous 'Those Canaan Days', with Hawksworth's dramatic French accent leading the group through the not-so-somber number. As Issachar (Shane Antony-Whitely) and Judah (Jayd Deroché), the Carribean-influenced 'Benjamin's Calypso' is both a strong vocal performance as well as a key moment in the narrative - while still maintaining it's humorous nature.

What's particularly special about this production is watching the younger cast members stand toe-to-toe with their adult co-stars - some of the best jokes in the show are delivered by them, and while it's hard to list specific moments for each, it shouldn't be understated that they play as big a part in this retelling of JOSEPH... as the Narrator and Joseph himself.

While this production does seem to move towards a more modern approach, with the inclusion of phones and selfies mentioned at certain points, there are still elements from the original story that remind just how long ago it originally premiered. Things like reducing certain populations to slave-owners, the western-ification of Egyptian culture and gods, or a scene that essentially makes the lead character a victim of sexual assault - these are all part of the plot of JOSEPH... and make sense within that world, but they do stand out now as outdated. It seems this production does what it can to tone down the worst parts, but their presence at all - while a part of the story, and likely hard to remove - ages the story, and not in a good way.

What JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT does well is spectacle. The set design (Morgan Large) is bright and fun to take in as it changes, and the costumes even moreso (costume design by Large). Lighting (lighting design by Ben Cracknell) ties the sets together wonderfully. Andrew Lloyd-Webber's music booms under conductor and musical supervisor John Rigby; however, the mixing of the audio left something to be desired. At times the instruments drowned out the singers, making it near-impossible to understand what was being said especially in large group numbers with lots of moving parts.

Despite its few blips, JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is a fun, bright spectacle of a musical that reminds audiences of all ages of the importance of dreams. Since the musical's original premiere in 1968 it's undergone many adaptations, but this one does well in showing the story for what it is. And at its best, it's a show that had the audience dancing and clapping along, sometimes unprompted, from start to finish.

Mirvish's production of JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT runs through February 18 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto.

Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann