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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

Now onstage at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre

Joseph (Jac Yarrow) sings 'Close Every Door'. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Joe Szekeres

Joseph’s back, and it’s just as grand a storytelling spectacle of music, song, and dance as ever told by a uber multi-talented diverse cast. Wonderful entertainment.

Toronto certainly needs Joseph’s story right now, and I for one am glad it’s back.

Based on Joseph’s story from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, the Narrator (a lovely performance by an engaging Vanessa Fisher) tells the story of the young dreamer (Jac Yarrow) and his eleven siblings. Their father Jacob favours Joseph and, as proof of the affection, purchases a multi-coloured coat for his beloved son much to the brothers’ extreme chagrin, jealousy and resentment of both the young lad and their father.
Joseph dreams he will rule over all his brothers one day which adds more fuel to the fire in their resentment of him. They plan to kill him but instead sell him into slavery to some passing Ishmaelites. To hide what the brothers have done, they and their wives tell Jacob that Joseph has been killed.

We then are introduced to Joseph’s world as a slave where he meets some highly unusual individuals from the Book of Genesis. There is Potiphar and his wife (more about them shortly) who order Joseph to be jailed for a possible indiscretion with the lady. Act One concludes with one of the best versions of Joseph’s ‘Close Every Door’ I’ve heard in quite some time.

In Act Two, the Narrator points out there is hope for the imprisoned Joseph thanks to The Pharaoh (Tosh Wanogho-Maud) who has been suffering from crazy dreams which cannot be explained. Joseph is then summoned to interpret what these dreams mean. As a result of Joseph’s interpretation, The Pharaoh makes him one of the most powerful men in Egypt.

We then return to Joseph’s brothers who are suffering from a severe famine that has ravaged them all. The brothers are extremely sorry for their actions against Joseph and travel to Egypt to beg for food. Joseph’s brothers are not aware of who their brother is when they arrive and as they beg for food. Joseph consents to help but tricks them with something to see how they respond. When he realizes just how much his brothers have changed, Joseph reveals his true self to them and to his father.

And there’s that terrific Megamix at the end.

Well, where to start?

Directed with an ardent passion for just plain ol’ fun in storytelling by Laurence Connor, this North American premiere becomes a struck oil gusher of music, dance, song, and spectacle for the holidays and the New Year. Joann M. Hunter’s athletic, high-step-kicking choreography is mesmerizing. The tap dance with Fisher and some of the brothers was perfectly executed. From my seat, I couldn’t see Ben Mark Turner in the orchestra pit (just his hand and baton periodically). Let’s just say Lloyd Webber’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics remain in masterful hands under Turner’s rockin’ musical direction. The only slight quibble I did have was in Gareth Owen’s sound design. There are a few moments in the brothers’ ensemble singing and in The Pharaoh’s Song where I couldn’t hear clearly all the lyrics. I’m a stickler for sound quality so, hopefully, this very minor issue can be resolved for future performances because it’s one helluva of a production not to be missed.

Some very smart and creative choices were made for this production that nicely worked for me.

For one, Morgan Large’s set design of Pharaoh’s court is awesome and the way it appears on the stage reminded me of something right out of the film version of ‘The Ten Commandments’. During the Pharaoh’s song, I really liked the enormously large religious Egyptian statue icons stages left and right both singing and bopping along with the music and playing instruments. Highly creative and very impressive.

Another touch - local Toronto youth have been cast and a few of them play some of Joseph’s brothers which soundly worked for me because this shows us the diverse age range and body sizes of the brothers.

What was also a nice touch was the young lad Jacob Davidov who played Potiphar at this performance. The young Davidov controlled the power of the moment when he, as Potiphar, sends Joseph to prison. For me, the strong visual impact of that moment is still in my head. At first, it put a smile on my face but, when I thought about it after, what if that was a possible historical reality that Potiphar may have been a small man?

Additionally, Vanessa Fisher assumes the roles of both Jacob and Potiphar’s wife which was another effective choice made. It makes sense as it initially helps to keep the pacing moving along since the Narrator is on the stage at that point. However, what makes this ‘Joseph’ so unique is its diverse casting and seeing both Jacob and Potiphar’s wife played by the Narrator does leave a strong visual impact.

Fisher is a terrific singer and her opening Prologue with the children is still poignant and sweet to watch as she sets the story. There are also some nice modern elements here too. At one point, Fisher takes a selfie with two of the kids.

Jac Yarrow is a handsome and charming Joseph whose rendition of ‘Close Every Door’ soars to the rafters of the theatre clearly, forcefully, and meaningfully. This rendition is one that you must hear for yourselves. Personally, I can certainly understand why Lloyd Webber gave his blessing to Yarrow for the role because, in the end, we have seen the positive change in Joseph and what he has become – a man of honour, integrity, family and values.

Tosh Wanogho-Maud’s Pharaoh is delightfully sexual campy and his performance of ‘Pharaoh’s Song’ is stellar. His Pharaoh reminded me of a marvellous cross between Elvis Presley (obviously), Rum Tum Tugger (of Cats) mixed in with just a hint of the look of Kanye West. Speaking of Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Theatre Company and their panoply of iconic shows. See if you can spot some of the Really Useful Theatre Company icons on the back wall near the end of the show. It was fun to pick out a few of them. (Hint: I immediately found the Phantom’s mask).

The ensemble of Joseph’s brothers remains extraordinarily animated and focused on many of the choral numbers. ‘Those Canaan Days’ and the marvellously sounding vocal harmonies combined with the campy French accents resound clear up to the second balcony of the theatre. Another of my favourite numbers is the ‘Benjamin Calypso’ where Joseph recognizes just how sorry his brothers are for their behaviour. Again, pure fun on that stage with that message of forgiveness underneath the song.

Final Comments: This ‘Joseph’ remains wonderful. Uplifting. We need this production now more than ever to help us continue moving forward out of Covid.

I hear the production is Broadway bound. Let’s hope it makes it there to put a smile on audience's faces as it did on mine and those sitting around me (who weren’t wearing masks).

A winner.

Another of my picks to see this winter before it leaves in February 2023.

Running Time: approximately two hours with one intermission.

‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ runs until February 18, 2023 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets call 1-800-461-3333 or visit mirvish.com.

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOUR DREAMCOAT
Lyrics by Tim Rice and Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Laurence Connor
Music Director: Ben Mark Turner
Choreographer: Joann M. Hunter
Sound Designer: Gareth Owen
Lighting Designer: Ben Cracknell
Set and Costume Designer: Morgan Large

Performers: Jac Yarrow, Vanessa Fisher, Tosh Wanogho-Maud (plus many others listed in the programme).

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