Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the pioneering biblical rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics Tim Rice, began life on March 1, 1968 as a 15-minute musical piece commissioned by Colet Court School in London as an end-of-term concert. Lloyd Webber and Rice subsequently expanded Joseph until it became an epic musical of, well, biblical proportions.
The full-length version of Joseph debuted in the West End London in 1972 and premiered on Broadway in New York City in 1982. Raleigh Little Theatre, under the direction of Haskell Fitz-Simons, first staged Joseph on the theater's Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage in 1984. This spring, RLT's long-time artistic director will stage the show in RLT's Rose Garden Amphitheatre.
"I first became aware of this play back in the early 1970s," Fitz-Simons recalls, "shortly after the phenomenal success of Lloyd Webber and Rice's concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar had hit the scene. As was my habit at the time, I searched out other works by the same authors and found an English recording of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
"As you are no doubt aware, the work was originally done at a school for teens and was very much shorter than the current production (which is actually very short by modern standards... not quite an hour and a half, including intermission!)," says Haskell Fitz-Simons. "In the late 1970s, after the highly successful run of Jesus Christ Superstar, the authors put together an extended revision of their original work which had a long run in London's West End and on Broadway. In the 1990s, American teen idol Donny Osmond had a 'good innings' in a revival on both sides of the pond. That production is (I believe) still running in London."
Fitz-Simons explains, "Joseph possesses an irrepressible score and lyrics. The music is delightful and well suited to the naive story it is telling. The style of the music is eclectic, encompassing a sort of easy 1970s pop-rock, with interpolations from the British music hall ('Potiphar'), the sentimental balladry of the American southwest ('One More Angel'), 1950's rock-n-roll ('The Song of The King'), the left bank of Paris ('Those Canaan Days'), and the Caribbean ('Benjamin Calypso'). The story is told in a presentational style that is at once captivating and immediately accessible."
Haskell Fitz-Simons says, "Joseph is a musical retelling of the story of Jacob (Bob Harris) and his 12 sons from the Old Testament book of Genesis. The story is moved along by a Narrator (Rose Martin) and tells the ageless story of Joseph (Kyle Langworthy), Jacob's favorite son, who incurred the jealous wrath of his brothers upon receiving a fabulous coat-of-many-colors from his doting Dad.
"The dastardly brothers pounce on the hapless Joseph one day whilst off in the desert and sell him as a slave to a passing band of Ishmaelites. They, in turn, sell Joseph to an Egyptian officer named Potiphar (Mattney Beck). Joseph catches the eye of Potiphar's lecherous wife (Heather Powell), who tries to seduce him.
"Caught in flagrante delicto by Potiphar," Fitz-Simons says, "Joseph is thrown into prison where he passes the time interpreting the dreams of his fellow inmates, a Butler (Alan Seales) and a Baker (Tony Hefner). His unusual abilities as interpreter of Dreams soon come to the attention of the Pharaoh (Mattney Beck).
"When Joseph gives a wise and politic reading to a troublesome dream of Pharaoh, he frees Joseph and makes him a Governor, and, under his stewardship, Egypt weathers a debilitating famine. Meanwhile, back in famine-plagued Canaan, Jacob and his family are finding the going rough. Jacob sends his remaining 11 sons to Egypt to bargain for supplies.
"Joseph recognizes his brothers while remaining unknown to them," Fitz-Simons says. "He frames his youngest brother, Benjamin (Nicholas DeVito), for the theft of a golden cup. The other brothers plead for Benjamin's life, asking Joseph to take theirs instead. By this, Joseph determines that his brothers have learned their lesson and have found humility and feelings of love for their fellows. He reveals himself to them and they beg his forgiveness which he at once bestows."
Staging an outdoor production of any show presents considerable challenges for director Haskell Fitz-Simons and his production staff, which includes associate director and choreographer Freddie Lee Heath, musical director Julie Flinchum, set designer Rick Young, lighting designer Mike May, costume designer Vicki Olson, and sound designer Rick LaBach.
"Staging this show out of doors in the amphitheatre, our first challenge is always the weather!" Fitz-Simons says. "No matter how organized one may be as a director or designer, it is impossible to foresee how the weather may or may not affect the rehearsal/build period of production. In addition, if the weather is very warm, some styles of clothing are difficult to work in (e.g., the 1880s fashions dictated by last year's HMS Pinafore). The stamina of the cast is always a problem when dealing with extreme heat or cold or damp. Costumer Vicki Olson has created designs which incorporate the comfort of cotton 'Action wear' with a colorful palette appropriate to the subject matter."
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Friday-Saturday, June 6-8, at 8 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday, June 12-14, at 8 p.m. in RLT's Rose Garden Amphitheatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. (NOTE: All performances are wheelchair accessible¸ and RLT will provide audio description during the June 6 performance.) $15 ($10 students). 919/821-3111. http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/joseph.htm [inactive 7/1/03] or http://www.reallyuseful.com/disp.cgi?page=joseph/main.html [inactive 11/03].