Joseph the somnambulist

oseph shows off his magnificent coat in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Kennedy Center.  Photo by Daniel A. Swalec
Joseph shows off his magnificent coat in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Kennedy Center.
Photo by Daniel A. Swalec


Notwithstanding the references to Ibsen and Byron in his 1989 musical Aspects of Love, Andrew Lloyd Webber makes musicals for the masses. There’s nothing wrong with that.

During his multi-decade reign as the The New York Times’ chief theater critic, Frank Rich routinely bashed the Brit’s “Puccini-isms” and lightweight libretti. I never understood the point. Judge Webber for what’s he’s trying to do, not by what Stephen Sondheim or Tony Kushner – two of Rich’s favorites – do.

It would be even more unfair to judge him based on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical written for children. Literally. The show, based on the biblical story of Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, was first presented as a pop cantata at the Colet Court School in London in 1968. Its lyrics aren’t deep (“How he loved his coat of many colors. In a class above the rest, it even went well with his vest”), but its score is inventive, a series of send-ups of musical styles – country, French, even calypso.

The problem with the Kennedy Center’s current production is the casting of the titular role.

Joseph’s brothers, as any reader of Torah knows, complain of feeling like also-rans. But here, they steal the show right out from under Joseph – twice. First, in “One More Angel in Heaven,” when Brian Golub as Reuben shows off a spectacular vocal range, including falsetto, as well as agile dance moves, and later in “Those Canaan Days,” when Paul Castree brings the house down with his comedic timing.

Joseph, as played by former American Idol contestant Ace Young, sleepwalks through his performance.

His brothers suck the marrow out of every line, every note, every gesture they’re given, while Young’s Joseph seems oddly oblivious to his surroundings and predicaments. Flung in a pit, sold into slavery, locked in a cell, seduced by his master’s wife, brought kneeling before Pharaoh, promoted to royal adviser and heaped with riches, reunited with his brothers and his beloved father – it’s all the same to Young. Nothing, it seems, can wipe that vacant expression from his face.

His real-life wife, fellow Idol alum Diana DeGarmo, is sincere and likeable as the show’s narrator, but she shouldn’t have to shoulder the production for her spouse.

Carol Channing once famously said to a co-star who threatened to upstage her: “The show is called Hello, Dolly, not Hello, Barnaby.”

Someone please tell this dreamer to wake up and realize he’s the star of a
musical at the Kennedy Center.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is onstage Dec 16-Jan. 4 at the Kennedy Center.

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