Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat…what ARE you? I mean, I don’t…I can’t…I just…I’m not sure I know what to do with you. You’re just all over the place. Broadway San Jose typically surprises and woos me, winning me over with shows I go in expecting I might not like so very much, but this one… you confuse and challenge me.
It surely doesn’t help that to begin with, we’re battling a personal prejudice as this show has always been synonymous with amateur theater in my mind. It’s a stock show on the children’s theater circuit because it’s clean, short (120 minutes), family oriented, and structured in a way that gives a lot of people an opportunity to shine with a stand out solo. You can also add in as many dancers and essentially costumed crew as you need, which they do a plenty in this production. The musical numbers are wildly eclectic, with a country western and a rock and roll number coming out of left field, plus a French accent in the midst of it all that throws one for a loop, if you let it. These devices are certainly bizarre, but traditionally crowd pleasers from a humor standpoint, which was certainly the case last night. And, one must assume it’s just not supposed to make much sense. Perhaps a nicer way to put it would be, it’s intended to focus on and emphasize light, silly fun as much as anything.
I guess I feel it doesn’t serve the show, doesn’t enhance it or make it any better, to fill it with American Idol superstars like Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo and apply a Broadway budget. Part exercise video, part acid trip, part Sunday school and in this case with all the spectacle that the American Idol production values bring (read: A MASSIVE LIGHTS AND PROJECTIONS EXTRAVAGANZA!!!), it still remains just a weird little show. So weird I almost expected Ryan Seacrest to come out on stage at some point or a voting phone number to appear.
Whether I like it or not, that’s not to say this mounting of the show is easy or lacks a solid cast. The actors don’t have an easy job and they shine despite having to perform these cheesy scenes with over the top choreography. This is a heavy dance show and while looking like the Solid Gold Dancers in some production numbers might come off as puerile, keeping it together is no small feat. It would be so simple to phone it in and have it go flat, but the cast was all energy and smiles for miles and then some. They either really, really, love what they are doing 8 days a week or all deserve Tony Awards for making it look so darned fun.
The particularly tight harmonies of the men’s ensemble were applause-worthy and DeGarmo powered through as a cheeky, self-aware narrator with the vocal agility that gave her notoriety. The visuals of the scenic, lighting and costume design had a lot going for them and those were exciting and flawless during the first half. As it turned out though, Ace Young’s glistening chest and impossible Mentos smile were far dreamier than any coat on stage as the second half was plagued with some embarrassing technical issues, including the big final effect which just failed in the most epic way it could have ever possibly failed. Such hiccups are hopefully not repeated for the next audiences to experience, but truly disappointing none the less for me. Even when working it’s doubtful the special effects are special enough to sell me on this show 100%.
Is it entertaining? Well, while I felt like a good portion of the time I was laughing at it and not with it, it’s a short show with some fine talent; I just wish the vehicle for that talent had a bit more substance or cohesive style. Or purpose. Or…something…. American Idol fans, kids and fans of the musical already should enjoy this version. If you aren’t in this target group, my suggestion is to go into it with your most uncritical eye possible. Embrace the schmaltzy, campy core of this show and tap you toe to the earworm or two provided. Take that drink into the theater with you. Try not to think too hard…or maybe at all about why…just take it in in the moment. 2 1/2 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara is all I can award this random romp. You can’t win them all, but hopefully there’s an audience that will embrace this show far more than I felt comfortable doing. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through Sunday, June 1st only at the San Jose Center of Performing Arts.