The cast in the new video version is led by Donny Osmond, who has played Joseph on stage across America in the version first directed by Royal Shakespeare Company associate Steven Pimlott at the London Palladium in 1991. The blonde narrator is Maria Friedman, well known for her performances in Stephen Sondheim musicals in London. A distinguished cast also includes Joan Collins, famous as Alexis Carrington in DYNASTY, as the outrageous, seductive wife of Potiphar, and Richard Attenborough, film director of GHANDI, CRY FREEDOM, and SHADOWLANDS, as Jacob, the kindly old father of Joseph and his brothers.
The origins of “Joseph” as a school performance are built into this production, which starts in a hall where the children are gathered for a morning assembly. That spinsterish teacher in severe glasses at the piano bears a striking resemblance to Joan Collins! And when Maria Friedman rushes in, drops her book, and sings about the story of a boy whose dream comes true, the young audience enthusiastically embraces the magical events that follow.
The picture-book Middle East of designer Mark Thompson is a bright and colorful fantasy land into which the children rush in order to lend their voices in support of the story. Joseph’s dreams and coat of many colors land him in trouble with his brothers, who sell him into slavery in Egypt.
There, Joseph becomes a prophetic guru to the Pharaoh, predicting years of plenty, then of famine, and guides the country through the recession to economic renewal. His father and his brothers, having become refugees from Canaan, turn up and beg for food, the magical coat goes missing, is found again, and the tribe is joyously reunited as Joseph ascends in a blaze of color and a chariot of gold.
One of the highlights has always been the appearance of the Pharaoh as an Elvis Presley routine in, as the score indicates, “1957 Rock Time”: “I was wandering along the banks of the river/ When seven fat cows came out of the Nile, a-ha, haa (Bop-shu-wah-doo-wah, Bop-bop-shu-wah-doo-wah)/ And right behind these fine, healthy animals/ Came seven other cows that were skinny and vile, a-ha, haa (Bop-shu-wah-doo-wah,),” etc. Pharaoh’s dream is interpreted by Joseph in the irresistible couplet, “All these things you saw in your pajamas,/ are a long-range forecast for your farmers.”
The mixture of brash, trumpet-tongued musical statement, unforced, relaxed melody, and well-turned, racy lyrics (“And when Joseph tried it on, he knew his sheepskin days were gone. … He looked handsome, he looked smart, he was a walking work of art”) has ensured the enduring appeal of “Joseph.” Musically, the score brims with ingenuity, especially in the lilting fluency in Joseph’s dream, an expressive, minor-key soliloquy in waltz time (“Close Every Door To Me”) and in the pleasantly mobile “Any Dream Will Do,” which remains one of the duo’s most popular songs and which uses a stiffening choral counter melody to add sinew and dramatic effect.
The dazzle of the coat is conveyed in a one-note litany which sparkle simply as the words define themselves like a separation of all the colors in the rainbow. That coat is red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and grey and purple and white and pink and orange and blue.
The show now works not only as a beguiling story in itself, but as a sort of upbeat pop anthology, with elements of reggae, psychedelic flower power, calypso, French café ballad, and even, as suggested in this video, the Hollywood musicals of Busby Berkeley. Any dream will do.