Chanhassen’s Joseph Dream On!

By Lavender December 4, 2007

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Something I was abundantly thankful for at the turkey dinner: This year, an iconoclastic alternative (is it ever!) to the season’s smarmy Christmas crap. For those who prefer naughty to nice, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre saves us from death by sugarplums by introducing a different Joseph to the (nonmanger) scene.

Brendan Bujold as Joseph. Photo by Act One, Too LTD

Only the way-too-long title is dated. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat harks back to the psychedelic era of the ’80s, when Andrew Lloyd Webber was once a little boy. Call him the Mozart of musical comedy: He wrote the exuberantly engaging music at age 19, teaming up for the first of many successes with Tim Rice, who contributed the abundantly clever lyrics.

It recasts the Old Testament story of Joseph, son of Jacob and envy of Joseph’s many brothers, who sell him into slavery in Egypt, where, over the years, virtue triumphs (along with a little vice in the form of hanky-panky with Potiphar’s wife). Joseph becomes the Pharaoh’s second-in-command, and grandly forgives the brothers when he’s reunited—provided that he once again be outfitted in his pièce de résistance, a many-colored coat (proving beyond a doubt that what history hints is true: Joseph is a closet gay).

Fun and games, is all I have to say! That sensibility makes this production triumph even Chanhassen at its best—a two-hour romp through dozens of musical numbers, whose redeeming virtues include its unabashed (but tightly, excellently orchestrated) kaleidoscope of jewel-tone costumes swirling like a Desert Storm about the stage in a whirlwind of good—and plenty campy—cheer.

Director Michael Brindisi wisely lets it rip, abetted by top-notch, and over-the-top, choreography by Tamara Kangas, as well as Rich Hamson’s magical costumes (including the tongue-in-cheekily abbreviated spangles of the Egyptian court ladies, straight out of a ’30s Ziegfield revue). In this production, Tom Mustachio’s adept orchestra is posted stage-rear, behind a scrim, garbed in Egyptian tunics. The simple, able set of Nayna Ramey consists of little more than huge, mobile alphabet blocks that spell out “JOSEPH.”

And Joseph himself—hunky, bare-chested Brendan Bujold (who previously delighted Chan audiences as Danny in Grease and A-rab in West Side Story) is a captivating crooner. As narrator, Jodi Carmeli (West Side Story ’s Maria and Sandy in Grease) leads us through the story like a perky Glinda the Good (and good she is). Keith Rice’s strong-voiced Pharaoh is properly regal, and Robert Droddy’s Potiphar is as oily as an Arab sheikh should be.

The chorus of Egyptians and Canaanites inhabits distinct personalities, knit together in—OK, easy-target—musical takeoffs that rendered me helpless with laughter: an achy-breaky cowboy number, complete with 10-gallon hats and lariats, mourning the loss of Joseph (“One less place at the table/One more tear in our eyes”); the Benjamin Calypso number camping Belafonte; a smoky French barroom ballad (cigarettes, brandy bottles, and broad Maurice Chevalier accents); and the uncontested showstopper, equating the Pharaoh with another king (“Are You Lonely Tonight?”), alone worth the drive.

Surprisingly, this is only the second Chanhassen staging of Joseph, last mounted while it still was running on Broadway, in 1983. High time. And high jinks.

The production continues through March 15. For tickets, call (952) 934-1525, or visit www.chanhassendt.com.

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