Decked in heels, jewels, and curls, the three of us sallied forth into the snow. Our tickets were for the 8pm showing of an old favorite: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat—a girls’ night out for my sister’s birthday. In the parking lot of the Drury Lane theater, we saw elderly couples, whole families, and crowds of teens in jeans and sweatshirts. One little girl—four years old—stumbled in the snow, so her dad swung her up in his arms to head inside. Another girl, maybe twelve, was escorted by her dashing, tux-wearing grandfather. She wore a floor-length blue gown and sparkling silver heels. We exchanged smiles and whispers of ‘How cute!’ as we followed them in.
Seated in plush red velvet, we were ready to be transported by foot-tapping music, inspirational dreams, and a story of forgiveness and redemption. Imagine our shock when, instead, we got Vegas.
Yep. You read that right.
I leaned over to my friend. “I am so confused,” I whispered. She nodded distractedly, eyes on the stage, as ‘Joe’ strolled into a contemporary hotel room, plugged in his phone, unpacked his suitcase, brushed his teeth, and got into bed. Our bewilderment increased when the door burst open and eleven brothers stampeded in, dressed in a motley hodgepodge of style. Fedoras and wingtip shoes: mobster? Knee-high boots and bandanas: pirate? Heavy eyeliner and top hats: steampunk? Open vest and massive fur collar: was that…Viking?
Okay, I thought, so they re-imagined the show. I can get used to this. I have an open mind. Unfortunately for me and everyone else in that theater, what we got was not a fresh look at a beloved classic. Instead, Joseph was lost in cheap storytelling and over-sexualization. One reviewer summarized: “The name of the performance should be changed to What drug was Joseph taking in Vegas.”
The storyline, ostensibly unchanged, is virtually unrecognizable. While the gangster/pirate/steampunk/Viking brothers drag Joe (Evan Alexander Smith) unwillingly from one scene to the next, the Narrator (Christina Bianco) sings the plot in various celebrity impersonations: Cher, Celine Dion, Bette Midler. Undoubtedly talented, Bianco should have been allowed to shine as the spunky Narrator. Instead, she is drowned in glitter, auto-tuning, and a fake snake. Frankly, I was just confused. Was she making fun of Britney, or the entire song ‘Poor Poor Joseph’? I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or be offended.
Set in Vegas, the plot is shorn of its pathos. ‘Any Dream Will Do’ sung to security guards who respond with a disbelieving ‘Ahh-ahhh’ on the backup vocals? It may be the one clever thing about this show, but it also eviscerates the impact of the song. The much-anticipated ‘Close Every Door’ is sung (albeit beautifully) by the inconsistent character of Joe, who has swung from being dragged into this kicking and screaming (literally), to actually appearing to succumb to Potiphar’s wife’s advances, to having some sort of epiphany in his hotel room about a greater purpose. What that purpose is, we have no idea.
Speaking of Potiphar’s wife, I had known that scene would get too racy for my standards, and so I figured it would be a great time to study my playbill in the pitch-dark theater. But I wasn’t prepared for the sexualization of the entire show. I cringed as I viewed a world where, apparently, a girl’s only purpose is to dance in as few clothes as possible and flaunt her body. The stripper outfits in the opening scene were bad enough. When the girls appeared wearing nothing but strategically placed pink stars and feather headdresses, I physically shuddered. When the rest of the (male) ensemble appeared wearing the same costumes, my friend leaned over to me. “Do you want to leave?” she asked.
I have never walked out of a theater before. I’ve never thought it would be necessary. Joseph, tragically, taught me how wrong I was. I wish we had left sooner. Every directing choice detracted from the story: the setting, the singing style, the costumes. Gone was the inspiring, likable hero. In his place, an unwilling, confused, inconsistent protagonist. Gone was the charming, family-friendly musical. In its place, a hypersexualized show that exploits women as objects and degrades men with pink sparkly scraps of fabric.
But Anna, you say, you didn’t see the whole thing. You can’t make such sweeping claims without seeing the entire show. I beg to differ. And even if you don’t believe me, believe the two-star rating consumers are giving it. Believe the scores of people who left during the first act. And believe other reviewers who are asking: “How do you ruin Joseph? Try setting it in Vegas”. This show was a travesty, all the more so because of its billing as a family-friendly classic. I think of the little four year old who went to see it with her dad; the girl in the long dress and her grandpa in the tux. They went, trusting. They were betrayed.
The entire production conspires to undermine a line at the heart of the show: “Any dream will do”. Sorry, friends, but this nightmare certainly will not.
I later found out that an acquaintance works at the Drury Lane box office. She said they receive around 40 complaint calls after every single show. Upset patrons typically ask for one of two things: to get a refund, or to speak to a manager. My friend said they are not allowed to grant either request.