Playwright: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice
At: Theatre at the Center, 10430 Ridge Road, Munster
Contact: ( 219 ) 836-3255; $$32, $35
Runs through: Oct. 22
BY CATEY SULLIVAN
He just keeps going and going and going.
Me, I'm ready for Andrew Lloyd Webber to come out with a musical about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or one of the Bible's other more inherently dramatic stories but, still, the enduring cheekiness and cheeriness of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat still makes me smile.
At Munster's Theatre at the Center, the Old Testament tale of Jacob's favorite son largely retains the innocent charm and big-heartedness that makes the show such a crowd-pleaser.
This isn't the slickest version of the show. The costumes have an air of tacky bargain basement sales racks about them. The overly busy ensembles the women wear are unflattering in the extreme; everything looks like it wasn't cut quite right.
And sweet Cheez Whiz, the curtain speech has got to go. It's the lounge-act equivalent of a cut-rate velvet Elvis painting, an embarrassment that creates a 'Welcome to amateur hour' mood and succeeds only in making the theater look ridiculous.
But if you can compartmentalize the pre-show speech from the show, you'll see that director William Pullinsi and his winsome cast inject Joseph with verve and homespun originality. There are plenty of quirky touches that make this Joseph its own creation, rather than a wannabe blockbuster starring, oh, a former teenage heartthrob.
Joseph's selection of reading material in one scene is a sly hoot. Likewise, so is Reuben's ( Scott Calcagno ) tres-gay finale to the faux French chanson Those Canaan Days. There are also the ZZ Top homage ( visual, not auditory ) by the Egyptian slave traders and the so-intentionally-hokey-it's-hilarious Dancing with the Stars nod.
Matt Raftery is adorable as Joseph—wholesome and optimistic, even when he's sold into slavery and tossed into prison. We should all maintain such can-do attitudes.
As the narrator, Roberta Duchak has the requisite, wholesome sparkle, and Joseph's 11 brothers are a nicely rambunctious crew. With the exception of Richard Strimer, this ensemble doesn't count dancing in its strengths. Stacy Flaster's choreography is simple and serviceable, and that's a good thing—the big dance numbers are done with more heart than grace. Most of the time that's fine—this isn't a ballet, or even Singin' in the Rain—but then you get a glimpse of Strimer cutting a move and you wish the rest of the cast would get up to speed and make a little magic already.
Yet, if ever there was a show where earnest workmanship can trump polished nuance, it's Joseph. The whole piece is tongue-in-cheek: How else can you sing in a major key about things like fratricide and famine? And of course there's the whole Pharaoh/Elvis thing. Jeffrey Max does the honors here, wearing a sneer and a spangle loincloth.
Go, go, go, Joe.