Some folks dream of the wonders they’ll do,
Before their time on this planet is through,
Some just don’t have anything planned,
They hide their hopes and their heads in the sand,
Now I don’t say who is wrong, who is right,
But if by chance, you are here for the night,
Then all I need is an hour or two,
To tell the tale of a dreamer like you …
Transferring a musical from stage to screen is never easy. It’s been done, of course, but what tends to happen is a movie broken up by the soundtrack.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that – Grease, Phantom of the Opera and, recently, Les Misérables all did it, and they did it spectacularly well at that.
But occasionally, you get a musical literally transferred from stage to screen. I reviewed RENT a few issues back, and now I’m turning my attention to another favourite of mine: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
We join what has to be the smallest primary school in the world (that’s elementary for our American readers) for a school assembly, except rather than a few certificates and a hymn, they are told the story of Joseph by Maria Friedman, our astute narrator.
Through song and dance.
As a teaching student, I have to applaud their methods – the children are hooked from beginning to end, and I doubt any of them forgot the story after that.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Joseph, let me see if I can explain.
Way, way back, many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began …
Hold up. Let me see if I can explain without resorting to the songs (I never forgot the story either).
Joseph (Donny Osmond) is the favourite son of Jacob (Richard Attenborough), as well as his only son with his favourite wife – in the Bible, Jacob has two wives, I believe, there seem to be about ten in this, although they may be his daughters-in-law instead.
Is it daughters-in-law? Or daughter-in-laws?
Well, whichever it is, Joseph is Jacob’s favourite son and, to prove it, Jacob gives his son a multi-coloured coat.
It was red and yellow and green and brown and …
Sorry, I did it again.
Obviously, Joseph’s eleven brothers aren’t too happy about this – note to parents: if you have to play favourites, do try not to be so blatantly obvious about it – and matters aren’t helped by Joseph’s dreams, which he swears predict that one day he will rise above his brothers and be more important than any of them.
Furious, his brothers decide to kill Joseph, but decide to sell him into slavery at the last minute.
Talk about sibling rivalry.
Joseph winds up in Egypt working for a man named Potiphar (Ian McNeice), and all would be well, if it weren’t for Mrs Potiphar (Joan Collins) who takes a bit of a liking to Joseph and gets him into a spot of bother – if you define a ‘spot of bother’ as ‘lifetime in prison’.
Poor, poor Joseph, locked up in a cell …
Luckily, the Pharaoh (Robert Torti) has been having some strange dreams and hears tell of the man who can interpret dreams, and Joseph finds himself in the Royal Palace.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the songs are extremely catchy and you will find yourself singing them for days afterwards (at least).
The sets are fairly simple, but there’s a certain amount of visual magic as the children flit in and out of the story, from the dreary school hall in their uniforms, to Canaan and Egypt in brightly coloured t-shirts and hats.
There are also a lot of visual rewards for those eagle-eyed enough to spot them. First of all, the characters in the story are all portrayed by the various teachers in the school (although the teachers never actually move throughout the performance). Secondly, there are a number of moments that are easily missed if one is too focused on the bulk of the performance – Joseph reading a book about the meanings of dreams, or the Pharaoh and his court (based on Elvis) all wearing blue suede shoes.
The music ranges from rock, to country, to an interesting number I can only describe as French (if that is, indeed a style), to Caribbean.
It’s a fairly upbeat musical, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its moments. Donny Osmond’s rendition of Close Every Door to Me is nothing short of haunting, and never fails to send shivers down my spine, even when I know it’s coming.
There are a few other moments that always make me well up (alright, one; I’m not a crier), but since it’s basically the climax of the show, I won’t spoil it.
Even though, if you’ve ever read the story of Joseph, you already know what it is anyway.
I’d give this film 4 out of 5, because I’m uncomfortable giving things 5 out of 5, and it is one of the more simple of Lloyd Webber’s musicals.
Roxanne Williams (is a dreamer)