Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is the musical Bible story Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber put together before they did Jesus Christ Superstar (and Evita and all the theater-filling things they did individually and with others since then).
As such it has a lot of the same approaches they’d more fully develop in Superstar: A brash dabbling into all kinds of musical idioms, a playfulness with the material, the wrangling of the stage musical form away from light ditties and toward a more fully rounded pop sound (thanks to deeper bass and drums rock band sound).
And while their styles matured considerably with later projects, audiences never left Joseph behind, demanding that it be produced on countless stages big and small ever since, probably because of the nonstop singing and its ultimate optimism.
Audiences seemed to love the production from top to bottom…
Early versions of it were actually staged as a holiday production, so it’s fitting that the Kennedy Center gets its stop on a long-running national production during the holiday weeks.
This version, directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, has been on the road since March, so the things runs fairly flawlessly for all of its moving parts, its company of nearly two dozen, the scenery flying in and out, the lights blasting the audience as much as the stage.
There could be a bunch of pileups, but there never are.
Likewise, the novelty leads for the show — a married couple of finalists from different seasons of American Idol, are just as workmanship in their leading roles.
Diana DeGarmo is a name I remember from the way it rolled off Ryan Seacrest’s tongue. She still performs with big eyes and exuberance, but otherwise looks quite different than she did on Idol. Of course that was nearly a decade ago when she was a teenager. At 27, she looks much more mature, her formerly blonde hair now dark, curly and running halfway down her back.
She stakes out some big notes here and there, but the Joseph role as narrator — as big as any in the work — surprisingly isn’t built for individual voices. Instead, it builds showstoppers by endless repetition of its big numbers, bludgeoning with ensemble vocals and constantly moving choreography.
That’s good news for Young, 34, who looks more as he did on Idol with a big smile and chin, long hair and a strong build, like a character out of Disney’s Hercules. One is reminded of his Idol appeal as he plays most of his role shirtless.
His voice is a higher tenor than you’d expect for a male lead and sometimes when he harmonizes with the narrator you can’t always tell which is which.
The thinness of the couple’s vocal sound may be an effect of the amplification — or simply the contrast to the many ensemble numbers.
The two are certainly the standouts of the big cast that is otherwise less distinguished. Ryan Williams does a clichéd Elvis impersonation as Pharaoh that he just won’t stop; William Thomas Evans plays another Egyptian ruler the way they’d cast Herod in Superstar, a comic song and dance man.
Late in the show, Max Kumangai’s Judah, who does an exaggerated island accent for a calypso number (which like so many of the musical approaches attempted, seems out of place), is made worse by the fact he’s the only person of color in the cast — let’s make him do the Jamaican accent.
But it’s no more out of place than Paul Castree doing a French accent for his act two lament.
Audiences just love all of these things though, and seemed to love the production from top to bottom, seeing its fast moving flashiness as exciting rather than gaudy excess.
That begins with a story in which a favored son gets a multicolored coat, whose hues seem tame compared to the blare of the flashing lights and impressive projections around him. In the slight story, his jealous brothers get him sold into Egyptian slavery, where he gets out of jail only by showing that he can interpret dreams for the kings.
Previously, Joseph was seen as a young man who liked to dream, but he gets his rise in society by being a soothsayer, predicting the future by analyzing other people’s dreams. At any rate, the scheming brothers go to the pyramids to beg for food, and find it’s their forgiving brother helping them.
Running time: A brisk 88 minutes, not including a 20 minute intermission.
Advisory: All ages. Some hip thrusts in the moves but nothing more scandalous than a contemporary music video.
Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St NW through Jan. 4, 2015. For tickets call 202-467-4600 or online.