When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, they were 20 and 24 years old, respectively. It was 1968, and Webber and Rice were nobodies. What began as a quaint 15-minute concert piece for a small English school has evolved into one of the most-produced musicals in history.
In other words, Joseph is the creation of two unknown young men in the late 1960s. Keep this in mind if you see Pittsburgh Musical Theatre's production this weekend.
In short, Joseph is a pageant, not a play. There are scads of people on stage, but they say very little, preferring to sing and dance for two hours. Nor does this Old Testament story have a modicum of character development: Joseph begins life as a noble young man, he suffers a brief bout of slavery and then suddenly he's promoted to Pharaoh's right-hand-man.
If you're blessed with visions, the Torah treats you well, and Joseph is an Hebraic hero from beginning to end. His 11 brothers are jerks at first, but they wise up. And although Joseph's cast is full of attractive young women, there is only one female character -- an Egyptian ho-bag known only as "Mrs. Potiphar."
No matter. The songs are obnoxiously catchy, and even if you've never spent a minute in catechism, you won't miss any of the plot. Joseph is more informed by well-worn pop culture than by the Book of Genesis, so you'll see Israelites singing cowboy songs and a Pharaoh dressed like Elvis Presley. "Go Go Go Joseph" is sung by prisoners in go-go boots (get it?), and we see "Those Canaan Days" performed as a Parisian torch-song. It's pastiche for pastiche's sake, and if you've seen one passable production of Joseph, you've seen them all.
This Joseph is another fine copy of previous productions, with some Arab stereotypes and an awkward Tiger Woods joke thrown in. There is magnificent costuming and a choir of adorable young children, and every second is filled with garish slapstick.
As Joseph, David Toole has everything the role requires -- a stunning voice and the body of a Calvin Klein model. Otherwise, legendary director Ken Gargaro has amassed the usual menagerie of energetic singers and dancers, and yes, they dazzle. We expected no less.
The stand-out performer is Tim Hartman, who plays Joseph's father, Jacob, among others. Hartman is a distinguished showman who uses his enormous stature to full effect. If Joseph requires pageantry above all, then Hartman's is truly biblical.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues through Sun., March 28. Byham Theatre, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org.