The 1999 direct-to-video production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is a curious beast. Studio-bound but theatrically inspired, it also takes the opportunity to frame the musical itself inside its most natural home, that of a school assembly.
There’s a touch of THE WIZARD OF OZ too, because the staff and faculty of whatever school this is, as they shepherd their eager young charges into the hall, are also destined to appear in the Technicolor extravaganza to come. Among those are some sizeable star names – Ian McNeice, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Biggins and, of course, the reason we’re all here for Reelweegiemidget’s Blogathon du jour: the incomparable Joan Collins (Donny Osmond – the eponymous star of the show – actually only appears once the musical’s begun and is the only cast member who only plays one role).
Joan Collins? In a musical? Well, yes – although she doesn’t do any singing. In fact, she’s got only one line of dialogue, and that dialogue consists of a single word: “Pity…”. So, you may ask, why would I choose this title to join in a celebration of Dame Joan’s glittering career? Put simply: her performance is the epitome of Stanislavski’s assertion that “there are no small parts, only small actors.”
We first encounter Joan as the prim and proper – and somewhat severe – school mistress, a persona she effortlessly infuses with just a hint of smouldering sex appeal even while maintain the façade of impenetrable respectability. It is she who commands the gathered audience of children to be silent, and she who exhorts them to all rise as the Headmaster (a likewise dialogue-free Richard Attenborough) makes his grand entrance down the centre aisle, robes billowing behind him like Rickman’s Professor Snape at full sail. It’s also she who heralds the musical itself, coaxing the opening notes from the school’s upright piano as The Narrator – an effervescent Maria Friedman – launches into the Prologue.
We won’t see Joan again until we reach Joseph’s slavery which sees him indentured to Potiphar (an imperious and impish McNeice), a kindly master and his lascivious wife, Mrs Potiphar. It’s here that Collins does her best work, steaming up the scenes with a raunchy sexuality that pushes at the boundaries of the family-friendly tone of the piece without ever once stepping over the mark. Sixty-six at the time of production, Collins rolls back the years in an eye-popping outfit, effortlessly seducing and subduing the innocent Osmond, who also plays this scene perfectly. The whole Potiphar sequence is a triumph a bawdy musical comedy, and Collins makes sure it’s a highlight of an already dazzling adaptation of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT.
The placement of veteran, skilled performers in what might be seen as minor roles pays off handsomely as they each make the most of their moments in the spotlight, their wily performances elevating the roles and thus the whole musical. Of course, it’s Osmond who anchors the show and his Joseph is one of – if not the most – likeable interpretations of a character who can often come across as vain, arrogant and callously oblivious to the feelings of others. He’s a match made in heaven for Lloyd-Webber’s irresistibly catchy melodies and his barnstorming performance of ‘Close Every Door’ shows, if nothing else, how vocally limited some of his illustrious predecessors have been in that role.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT has always been one of Lloyd Webber’s most accessible musicals and yet also one of his most creatively versatile as he mischievously turns his hand to music genre after music genre without ever feeling disjointed or discordant. Notably the first publicly performed collaboration between him and lyricist Tim Rice, it nevertheless shows that from the outset of his career, Rice was immeasurably fortunate to snag a musical genius as a partner so the mediocrity of his lyrics need never be fully exposed. With this cast, though, those very special guest stars and a production that’s vibrant, witty and welcoming, the musical hits all its highest notes and thanks to it being captured forever on film, this is one fable the family will want to come back to again and again.