Having a degree in theatre has quite possibly ruined me forever. I can no longer watch a play, musical, tv show or movie without being hyper-critical. I will be the first to admit that if you have a movie you’re crazy excited about seeing, you might not make me your first choice as a viewing buddy. If I am not buying the story or find something wrong with the production, my brain takes over and I over focus. And then I will inevitably ruin your evening because I will point out the faults to you so that I’m not sitting there with my thoughts running around all willy nilly in my brain bugging the crap out of me. I share. For instance, recently I went to see Rock of Ages with Romy and I was do distracted by the horror of seeing Tom Cruise’s naked torso that I missed the plot line entirely. I had to ask her to give me the synopsis the next day and even then I can’t promise that what she told me was what really happened. I had no idea. For all I know he could have busted out into Scientology bullroar.
That being said, I’m not sure why I even bother going to see shows at the Muny (our local “professional” summer theatre which is really just glorified community theatre and in full disclosure, not even GOOD community theatre) here in St. Louis. I am always disappointed in the quality of the production. Last night was no exception.
I may or may not have mentioned that Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is one of my favorite shows. So when I heard it was coming to the Muny stage I was very excited. I’ve seen it there before and while it wasn’t the best production ever, it was still better than almost everything else I have seen there. If you’re familiar with the show, you know that It’s really a pretty hard show to screw up. I always compare it to a Big Mac: you go to any McDonald’s and a Big Mac is a Big Mac. No exceptions. Dependable but tasty. That is Joseph.
Or so I thought. When I saw the season lineup I was so pumped because 1) it’s the Big Mac of all theatre, 2) Justin Guarini (the sideshow Bob look-alike from season one of American Idol) was set to star as Joseph. Not only would I be seeing one of my favorite shows but I’d also have the delicious opportunity to make fun of the star of the rarely seen From Justin to Kelly! (And no, I have never seen it.)
Folks, if you’re ever asked to star in a Muny production, you know you are officially watching your career swirl about the toilet bowl.
I wondered what I was in for when I saw a giant projection screen at the back of the stage before the show and it was lit up like a Christmas tree with a giant picture of the St. Louis Arch.
“Oh no….say it ain’t so….Joe,” I prayed silently to myself, “please tell me they aren’t going to Lou this up (Lou is the unfortunate nickname given to St Louis) and make the whole thing St. Louis based. I love my city very much but St. Louis is not really an appropriate place to set the show.
Surely, they wouldn’t…..surely they did.
Instead of just using the standard prologue, a bunch of actors in modern day clothing flitted about the stage. Every once in a while one of them would stop at the front of the stage and say something like this,
“I lost my job….and then I lost my dream.”
“I lost my husband…and then I lost my dream.”
“I lost my career when I signed on to do this production….and then I lost my dream.”
It was all a tad dramatic for the opening of what was supposed to be a comedic show.
Then the show started. The actors in the show were fairly good. The narrator was impressive and surprisingly when Justin entered the stage, wearing a St. Louis Cardinals jersey, of course, I was quite impressed with his version of “Any Dream Will Do.” This kid was going to be ok in this show. But an early red flag was that they added a new song….to an Andrew Llloyd Webber classic. It’s a bold move to add a song you made up to a very well known show. Is bold the word I’m looking for?
Then the brothers entered. The show does not require a lot of intense choreography for the brothers, aside from a few dance numbers. But in this production, any time they were singing, they were doing awkward dance moves that distracted from the song. They dance through every scene. Way over choreographed and none of the choreography made sense in relation the show or the lyrics.
Each scene was played in front of a very large projected picture of a St. Louis Landmark. Somehow, someone wrote a new song that basically made it clear that Jacob and Sons was actually a Schnuck’s grocery store. Nice way to take a TRUE story and Lou it up just for a cheap joke…or seven.
“One More Angel In Heaven” was played with a bunch of women in skimpy St. Louis Cardinals shorts and tees with the brothers wearing Cardinals cowboy hats. The first time they sing the name of the song, out comes Justin/Joseph in an angel costume (looking like a six year old in a church Christmas pageant) surrounded by other angels. Wait…what? Now we’re in the brothers’ heads?
Potiphar, who bought Joseph as a slave and then put him in charge of the household was portrayed as Donald Trump. So now I’m really confused because I can’t figure out what Trump has to do with St. Louis. Or Egypt. Or the Bible.
The end of the first act is the go-go dancing crowd favorite song, “Go go go Joseph” It’s always amazingly choreographed and makes you want to rush the stage and start shaking it with the actors. This was a poorly choreographed semi-dance number. Then at what you thought was the end of the song, the choreography started over. They repeated the ending three times. It was like being in an Andrew Lloyd Webber production of Groundhog Day.
At this point, I just felt sorry for Justin. Poor guy probably thought he was going to come do a classic musical that everyone loves and then he gets stuck in this St. Louis-ified version. I bet when he was making From Justin to Kelly he thought it couldn’t get any worse. While I never saw that movie, I can assure you, he thought wrong.
Normally at the Muny, I would leave at intermission but for you, my dear readers, I stayed. While the show was horrific, and I can’t get back my two hours, I did it for the sake of the blog. If only I had gone to see the show earlier in the week, I could have saved some of you from seeing this trainwreck. My sadness lies in the fact that as I looked around the amphitheatre at intermission, I wondered how many first-timers were there. This was their initiation to the show and I felt bad for them.
As the time for Pharaoh/Elvis to appear neared, I wondered how they would change the classic character. Would they turn him into Chuck Berry, a native St. Louisian? Or maybe Tina Turner? Or worst of all, NELLY? A flood of relief washed over me as Pharaoh took off his hat to show that he was indeed sporting the Elvis pompadour. He sounded ok and he danced ok, if not semi-spastic. The most impressive thing about this actor was that while he was singing, he repeatedly jumped in the air and landed in the splits. Ouchie. While the song lends itself to cheesiness, the Muny overdid it. Elvis milked the scene for way more than it was worth and in the end it drained the cleverness and wit right out of the entire song. By the end of the song, you were wishing that this Elvis had been the one to have a heart attack on the toilet instead of the real one.
As if the show wasn’t weird enough already, it got worse. There is a song of lament sung by the brothers as they are experiencing the famine. The song “Those Canaan days” is sort of a sendup of a little French café. The brothers sing in an accent and generally wear berets. The song, although not one of my favorites musically, is always good for a few laughs….except that this director, in keeping with the St. Louis-ification of the whole show, set this song at…where else? TED DREWES FROZEN CUSTARD.
Really? Mr or Mrs. Director? You thought that it would make sense to set a FAMINE at a well-known CUSTARD SHOP? That’s the exact opposite of famine. The giant picture was of Ted Drewe’s famous building and each of the brothers was dressed in a Ted Drewe’s shirt and cap and was standing behind a mini Ted Drewes stand. For those of you who don’t know, Ted Drewes is famous for it’s concrete (DQ blizzard) and the claim to fame is that you can flip it upside down and it’s so thick that it won’t fall out. So of course it would make sense that the brothers, who are supposedly starving and singing about it, are standing there holding frozen custard. Ted Drewe would be rolling over in his grave, if he were dead. And if he goes to see how they’ve made a mockery of his shop, may very well end up that way. Death by embarrassment. I can’t understand how a director makes and justifies that choice. It doesn’t make sense on any level.
But we’ll move on.
Finally at the end, Joseph wants to trick the brothers before he tells them who he is so he hides his cup in a sack of food that he gives to his little brother, Benjamin. As the brothers are leaving, Joseph accuses them and looks through the sack until he finds it. This leads into a song called “Benjamin Calyso” which, is always a calypso. Go figure.
Not at the Muny. Again, the brilliant director, decided to exercise his artistic license and turned the song into a church show choir song. They changed the lyrics so that it didn’t sound tropical and they ADDED lyrics about “letting Benjamin go” It was like a gospel church got a hold of the song and made it into a ten minute praise-the-Lord-a-thon. The sound of the song changed, the lyrics changed and the entire song fell flat on it’s ungodly face. I cannot even imagine what drug the director was on to make him think it was a wise decision to change the “Benjamin CALYPSO.” Again, bold move. But bold is not the right word….the right word would be IDIOTIC.
We stayed through the entire show up until curtain call. Now having been on stage myself, I do try to follow the rule of waiting until after the curtain call to leave. The curtain call of Joseph is one of the best parts of the legacy. It’s not like any other one you will ever see. It has been geniusly made into a megamix of all of the songs and the actors dance and sing along. To reiterate how bad this show was, I will just say this: I didn’t even stay for the megamix. I was already well on my way to the car. Not that I didn’t think the actors deserved a curtain call. They did, for several reasons. They all worked very hard. They all performed very well.
But mostly, they all took a huge hit to their careers by being in this production.
Joseph runs all weekend at the Muny. So if you’re in St. Louis and you’re looking for something to do this weekend, we have an amazing zoo and it’s free.