Sunday, April 1, 2012

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Part 1; Overview & OBC) - ALMOST DONE!

This is going to be long.  Possibly a few entries worth here, since I will be commenting on every version of this that I know of.  Why, you ask?  Well, probably because I'm insane and this is one of my favorite musicals--it's extremely family-friendly and uses (parodies?) a lot of different "styles" of music in it (country/western, Elvis-style rock, calypso, etc.), so people with differing musical tastes can enjoy it. In fairness, though, it is a Broadway-flavored parody, which means it won't be completely accurate in sound.  Also, despite being a bible story, it doesn't feel too preachy. It's hard to mess this one up, and even a mediocre production can be very entertaining.

Quick definition:
A moderately successful show is one that recoups its costs.  It usually takes a run of 10 months to a year. []

General Information and Opinions: There have been 2 Broadway productions of Joseph, the original and a revival.  From  The former lasted from Jan 27, 1982 - Sep 4, 1983, 747 performances, certainly a respectable length, over a year, and the latter from Nov 10, 1993 - May 29, 1994, 231 performances.  Both most likely recouped their costs; and the latter gave rise to some national/regional tours. Neither lasted for any record-breaking amount of time, unlike some of ALW--Andrew Lloyd-Webber-'s other shows (Cats, Phantom of the Opera, etc.), but I feel this one is just as good as those, but in a very different way. Not as weird or artsy as Cats, and not as dramatic and soaring as Phantom, just a relatively simple story with a lot of fun music.  There are no vocal "pyrotechnics," and extremes of vocal range are not used too often (perhaps why it is so frequently done; it doesn't require singers with huge ranges, though of course there is room for a few vocal flourishes).
Since it is sung-through (i.e. there are no scenes of dialogue), the show really moves along. After all, you go to a musical for the music and the songs, so sometimes the scenes of dialogue can really drag things down. There are some slow-ish spots, but I never feel like it drags. Also, the music, though not as lush nor as edgy/rock-inspired as some of ALW's other shows, is catchy and, well...just fun. I'm going to have to revise this when I figure out what word I was looking for. Memorable, maybe? This is NOT to say that I don't like Cats or Phantom, by the way. I'll tackle those eventually.

Anyway, I know very few people would be interested in...let's see, how many do I have...5 different recordings and a movie of this (and if I'm feeling crazier I'll do a quick review of the 3 or 4 stage versions I've seen), but's my blog, I can do what I want. :-p This is mostly just to make use of all the random knowledge and opinions I have rattling around in my head.

I may end up doing this as a overview and then specifics on each version.  Experimentation! :) So far I'm just going through each version in order from earliest to latest, song by song, making various comments.

Notes:  I am reviewing these based on the recording only; I can't say too much about what the original live production would have been like (I wasn't even alive when the first one was on Broadway); but these are my impressions of the production based on the recording, and any pictures I've found in the CD booklet or online.

EDIT: Ok, overview of all songs in general, first.
Act 1
**Prologue - Narrator: Narrator's intro for the frame story. Many versions include a children's chorus to whom the Narrator sings. This song was added for the 1982 Broadway production.
**Any Dream Will Do - Joseph, Children: Fairly standard broadway ballad. Added in this spot in the show AFTER the 1982 production.
**Jacob & Sons - Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Children, Ensemble: uptempo, fun song for exposition and quick character introduction
**Joseph's Coat - Jacob, Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Children, Ensemble: The Color song! Red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach...more setup for the story.

**Joseph's Dreams - Narrator, Brothers, Joseph: Not sure what to call this, but the latter part of the song is jazzy. (Joseph is kind of a jerk in this...oblivious, too.  Honestly, you have to sympathize with the Brothers somewhat!)
**Poor, Poor Joseph - Narrator, Brothers, Children: I have to call this partly rap. Yes, rap. It sounds lame I know, but it works. Somehow. The Brothers are such...punks? :-p  Joseph is sold to the slavers.
**One More Angel in Heaven - Reuben, Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Jacob, Children: This a country/western style song, sung with exaggerated twang and styling. Usually includes an uptempo dance sequence (celebration) after Jacob totters off somewhere to mourn. The Brothers celebrate like jerks.
**Potiphar - Children, Narrator, Male Ensemble, Mrs Potiphar, Potiphar, Joseph: This is a 1920s Charleston (?) number according to Wikipedia.
[King Herod's Song from Jesus Christ Superstar is a much more ragtime piano/Charleston-sounding song to me.]
**Close Every Door - Joseph, Children:  slow ballad; saddest part of the show.  When I was younger I found it way too boring and sad but we need some contrast before the NEXT number...and really, a contrast in tone is needed somewhere.  The song has some emotional depth (If my life were important I would ask: will I live or die? but I know the answer lies far from this world); without completely losing hope (Children of Israel are never alone, for I know I shall find my own peace of mind...) and it develops Joseph into more of a character instead of being completely bland.  Lets Joseph's actor show off some vocal prowess.
**Go, Go, Go Joseph - Narrator, Butler, Baker, Ensemble, Joseph, Guru, Children:  Well, after that sad, serious interlude...DISCO!  This song starts out sounding a lot like the last number, starts slow until we get to the chorus.  And then it explodes into a dance party!  The lyrics of the chorus are not particularly deep but the tune is so darn catchy that I stopped caring long ago.  A fun, energetic song to close out the first act.

Act II

**Pharaoh's Story - Narrator, Children:  The Narrator gives us some more exposition/background and foreshadows Joseph's rise.  Let's the Narrator show off some vocal prowess.
**Poor, Poor Pharaoh - Narrator, Butler, Pharaoh, Children:  Sung-through scene.
**Song of the King - Pharaoh, Ensemble:  And here we have probably the high point of the show.  We finally meet the Pharoah...and he's Elvis.  Or rather, he acts and sings like a parody/exaggeration of Elvis.  [And if you think that's weird, just consider this:  There's an Elvis-inspired cat in Cats.]
**Pharaoh's Dream Explained - Joseph, Ensemble, Children - Joseph explains the meaning of Pharoah's dream (obviously)
**Stone the Crows - Narrator, Pharaoh, Children, Joseph, Female Ensemble - Joseph becomes the Pharoah's advisor and saves Egypt from starvation.  Egypt loves Joseph.
WIKIPEDIA LISTS AN ADDITIONAL SONG HERE, CALLED "King of My Heart -Pharaoh" which I have never heard/heard of. It was not in the most recent production I saw, either.
**Those Canaan Days - Simeon, Jacob, Brothers  -- a French ballad
**The Brothers Come To Egypt/Grovel, Grovel - Narrator, Brothers, Joseph, Female Ensemble, Children
**Who's the Thief? - Joseph, Brothers, Female Ensemble
**Benjamin Calypso - Judah, Brothers, Female Ensemble
**Joseph All the Time - Narrator, Joseph, Children
**Jacob in Egypt - Narrator, Jacob, Children, Ensemble
**Any Dream Will Do (Reprise) - Joseph, Narrator, Ensemble, Jacob, Children
**Close Every Door (Reprise) - Joseph, Children
**Joseph Megamix - Ensemble:  Reprise of nearly all the songs.  I love it!  Added here AFTER the 1982 production.

First up:
According to Wikipedia there was a 1969 concept album by Decca, which I do not have. I'll check it out if I see it.

I also see on Amazon a 1973 London Studio Cast, which I don't have. Listening to samples, I think I'll skip it--singers are a little dull, but it is neat to hear these early versions of the songs--you can hear the show/songs starting to take shape; and it's very clear how they progressed and were tweaked (tempo/phrasing) to become the polished later versions. On second thought...I may have to get this one eventually, too. Curse my collector's tendencies!
Also from Wikipedia: A recording of the full musical was released on the MCA label in 1974, again featuring Gary Bond, Peter Reeves, and Gordon Waller. This is the earliest recording of Joseph to eventually go to CD. Gordon Waller also appeared on another recording in 1979, featuring Tim Rice as the Narrator and Paul Jones as Joseph, on the Music For Pleasure label.

1982 Original Broadway Cast (OBC)
This is the first (or at least first recorded) version of the show that I have. I have to admit, I didn't hear it until I'd heard the next three versions; and so I was somewhat underwhelmed by the original. This is the only version that does not include "Any Dream Will Do" as the 2nd song on the CD; it is only the finale. There is no children's chorus in this version (I don't know if they had one and it wasn't recorded, or if they added it for later productions. It's probably a lot of trouble to coordinate.)

Laurie Beechman as the Narrator is fine, but probably my least favorite. Just listening to the prologue, she is a little too throaty and also slides and wails on notes ("a dreamer li-i-ike you" "all dream a looot") and sounds almost mournful. I'm not sure how much of this could be due to music trends at the time (wailing is usually in for female country singers...), but her voice doesn't have any edge. There's at least one example of wailing or sliding in just about any of her solo sections--the wails and slides make random lines sound overdramatic. I'm not sure if maybe the wailing helped her project or, not exactly BAD, but not my cup of tea (so, IMHO, kinda bad. :-p).

Joseph (Bill Hutton): Pleasant, unremarkable. Somewhat lackluster; not enough energy.

Prologue has actual piano sound instead of synth.

Poor, Poor Joseph--this version is mostly sung, instead of rap/spoken. Has a vaguely 80s pop? sound to it. Maybe that's why the newer ones, made in the 90s, use rap instead.? Though maybe the 90s version are supposed to still sound like the 80s, I'm not sure. Need somebody to help me here.
So maybe they can maybe change this one to whatever the current pop sound is...The 2000s versions should be using autotune then. :-p
The Narrator is all right in this song; a couple of unpleasant notes/wails, but her flair for over-dramatizing and throaty voice (plus a couple of growly words--i.e. blood & guts) works all right here.

One More Angel in Heaven--a very folksy, western version; with an audible clip-clop rhythm underneath. Levi (Steve McNaughton) is singing lead.

Potiphar--has him singing about himself in 3rd person and/or past tense part of the time instead of the narrator, which feels a little awkward sometimes.  I suppose this actor doesn't get much to do though, so it's more understandable; and it saves having the narrator running around in the scene (either invisible or as a random observer).

Go Go Go Joseph--Disco song.  Narrator's wailing at the beginning is a little OTT; it provides contrast but it grates on my ears.  Has a lot of random, slightly chaotic sounding vocalizing near the end--not sure if that was supposed to help with the "disco" style of this song.  It's IS something of a dance song in this version, not quite as high-energy as later versions though.  It's also much shorter; later versions repeat the chorus a few more times and have more dance interludes.

Pharoah Story--too much narrator wailing.

Song of the King--Cheesy Elvis impression with some cute...honky-tonk? piano and chorus...listen for a little "oooh, yeah-yeah-yeah" and "ooh-wheee-oooh". Cute touch, maybe someone decided it was too campy though, since it's not in the later ones.  Some of Pharoah's lines are a little too quiet, have to turn up the sound to hear them clearly. Seems like something easily fixed in the studio during mixing but maybe not.
I'm not an expert on Elvis, so maybe this is a terrible impression, I don't know. Elvis fans, tell me what you think!

Those Canaan Days--
Reuben (Robert Hyman) is singing lead.

Quick note on the CD I have: There is an error, Track 13 is just Those Canaan Days. Track 14 is The Brothers Come to Egypt/Grovel, Grovel/Who's the Thief?

Final comments:
The arrangements of the next 4 are all about the same.  I do like having this version, to hear an alternate arrangement of the songs--different tempos and slightly different parts emphasized.  Feels much less polished but perhaps a touch more...realistic?  sincere?  Unfortunately the sort of bland, uninspired Joseph and my dislike of the Narrator's voice really keep me from liking this one that much.  You may argue that Joseph is a bland character anyway, but I find

Lyrical changes
-still in your prime

Newest (2006)
no real string instruments in the orchestra

Trying too hard. Really chewing the scenery. It's for kids, so it's ok, but not my favorite.

Go Go Go Joseph--no spirit!...minimal background, trying something new with drums, but...feels lackluster.
motorcycle/really cheesy/fake revving sound?

Amy Adams--over-enunciating? Some very BRITISH vowels. Weird.
very artificial sounding background; very synth-y
Any Dream Will Do--weird phrasing, a little too...sweet?

Poor, Poor Joseph -Huh (to ...emphasize the rap?) Honestly, autotune would have been a better choice. :-p

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