Broadway Rose’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” Revels in Its Vibrant Musical Parodies

Despite its biblical roots, the production’s vibe is more vaudevillian than moralistic.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Howard Lau)

Whether audience members at Broadway Rose Theatre are seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for the first time or are hardcore fans who have all the lyrics memorized, director-choreographer Dan Murphy has packed his new version of the 50-plus-year-old musical with a plethora of giddy surprises.

Although its plot is based on a biblical story, Joseph’s vibe is more vaudevillian than moralistic, with rhyming lyrics that pair “take for a ride” and “fratricide.” Murphy’s production stays true to that spirit, embracing the delicious silliness of the original show. This is clear early in the first act when the audience is treated to a chorus line of sheep farmers clad in sneakers and colorful carpenter pants performing a jazz routine while holding their shepherd crooks like canes.

Written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice when they were 19 and 22, respectively, Joseph is eons away from their later, uber-serious rock operas Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

The pair came up with the idea for the show in 1967. Starting as a 20-minute cantata for a school choir, the concert was eventually expanded to become a full-length play with a pastiche of musical parodies, such as a country and western number, go-go dancers and a pharaoh who’s also—why not?—an Elvis impersonator.

On top of that, Murphy (who is Broadway Rose’s managing director) adds plenty of playful touches to his production. The white-booted go-go girls dance in gold cages, and Groucho and Harpo Marx make an appearance in the desert…and between the rows in the audience. Even the dramatic narrator (Danielle Valentine), who’s dressed in gold and black heels ideal for ballroom dancing, takes a break from her stunning solos to check her texts and snap a few selfies.

As in the biblical story, the Joseph in the play is prone to prophetic dreams. When his dad plays favorites and gives Joseph the titular coat, his 11 jealous brothers sell him into slavery. After ending up in Egypt, though, Joseph becomes the pharaoh’s right hand.

A sweet-voiced Alex Foufos plays his Joseph as comically clueless. Besides preening in his fancy coat in front of his less fortunate brothers, he can’t help announcing that his dreams indicate he’ll be more successful than them. While his future corn crops will grow tall, he sings, his brothers’ sheaves will be “really rather small.”

Without exception, everyone in this stellar cast delivers Rice’s witty lyrics with zest. To add to the fun, Murphy sprinkles Easter eggs throughout the dances, including Steve Martin-style King Tut hand motions and the Batusi (a dance originated on television by none other than Adam West’s Batman).

The whole cast is onstage most of the time, but everyone is so invested that they never run out of steam or take a false step. Especially entertaining is brother Reuben (Maximilian Tapogna), who performs “Those Canaan Days,” a brilliant parody of a sad French ballad, and brother Levi (Chad Craner), who cheerfully puts on a country-and-western twang for “One More Angel in Heaven.”

In a show that’s bursting at the seams with pop references, there’s a danger of overdoing the comic bits. Murphy and company, however, find just the right touch, gradually upping the zaniness until it reaches a crescendo with a calypso number, which is sung with million-kilowatt charisma by Rodney McKinner III and features giant inflatable bananas. The scene proves once again that this company excels at combining an infectious let’s-put-on-a-show exuberance with the professionalism and polish of New York’s Great White Way.

This is true of the behind-the-scenes artists, too. Emily Rusmisel’s sweeping backdrops of pyramids flanked by bold geometric designs add to the giddiness of the second act. Likewise, the props and costumes, including berets, cowboy hats, and Technicolor handkerchiefs, to name just a few, add so much life that they’re almost characters themselves.

In his director’s notes, Murphy says he met his wife, Sharon Maroney (who is Broadway Rose’s producing artistic director), when they were performing in the play in 1984. The couple also opened the Broadway Rose with Joseph in 1992. This fresh production, then, is a fitting tribute to Murphy and Maroney’s marriage…and their love for musical theater itself.

SEE IT: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays the Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard, 503-620-5262, 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, through July 23. $20-$60.

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