Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a musical with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story is based on the “coat of many colors” story of Joseph from the Bible‘s Book of Genesis. This was the first Lloyd Webber and Rice musical to be performed publicly. (Their first musical, The Likes of Us, written in 1965, was not performed until 2005.)
Joseph was first presented as a 15-minute pop cantata at Colet Court School in London in 1968 and was recorded as a concept album in 1969. After the success of the next Lloyd Webber and Rice piece, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph received stage productions beginning in 1970 and expanded recordings in 1971 and 1972. While still undergoing various transformations and expansions, the musical was produced in the West End in 1973, and in its full format was recorded in 1974 and opened on Broadway in 1982. Several major revivals and a 1999 straight-to-video film, starring Donny Osmond, followed.
The show has little spoken dialogue; it is completely sung-through. Its family-friendly storyline, universal themes and catchy music have resulted in numerous productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; according to the Really Useful Group, by 2008 more than 20,000 schools and amateur theatre groups had successfully put on productions.
The story is based on the Biblical story of Joseph, found in the Book of Genesis. It is set in a frame in which a narrator is telling a story (sometimes to children, encouraging them to dream). She then tells the story of Joseph, another dreamer (“Prologue,” “Any Dream Will Do”). In the beginning of the main story Jacob and his 12 sons are introduced (“Jacob and Sons”). Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him for his coat of many colours, a symbol of their father’s preference for him (“Joseph’s Coat”). It is clear from Joseph’s dreams that he is destined to rule over them (“Joseph’s Dreams”). To get rid of him and prevent the dreams from coming true, they attempt fratricide, but then they sell Joseph as a slave to some passing Ishmaelites (“Poor, Poor Joseph”), who take him to Egypt.
Back home, his brothers, led by Reuben and accompanied by their wives, break the news to Jacob that Joseph has been killed. They show his tattered coat smeared with his blood – really goat blood – as proof that what they say is true (“One More Angel in Heaven”). After the bereft Jacob leaves, the brothers and their wives happily celebrate the loss of Joseph.
In Egypt, Joseph is the slave of Egyptian millionaire Potiphar. He rises through the ranks of slaves and servants until he is running Potiphar’s house. When Mrs. Potiphar makes advances, Joseph spurns her. She removes his shirt, feels his chest and back, squeezes his rear and blows him kisses. Potiphar overhears, barges in, sees the two together – and jumps to conclusions (“Potiphar”). Outraged, he throws Joseph in jail. Depressed, Joseph laments the situation (“Close Every Door”) – but his spirits rise when he helps two prisoners put in his cell. Both are former servants of the Pharaoh and both have had bizarre dreams. Joseph interprets them. One cellmate, the Baker, will be executed, but the other, the Butler, will be returned to service. Upon hearing this, the rest of the prisoners surround Joseph and encourage him to go after his dreams (“Go, Go, Go Joseph”).
The Narrator tells of impending changes in Joseph’s fortunes (“A Pharaoh Story”) because the Pharaoh is having dreams that no-one can interpret. Now freed, the Butler tells Pharaoh (acted in the style of Elvis Presley) of Joseph and his dream interpretation skills (“Poor, Poor Pharaoh”). Pharaoh orders Joseph to be brought in and the king tells him his dream involving seven fat cows, seven skinny cows, seven healthy ears of corn, and seven dead ears of corn (“Song of the King”).
Joseph interprets the dream as seven plentiful years of crops followed by seven years of famine (“Pharaoh’s Dreams Explained”). An astonished Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of carrying out the preparations needed to endure the impending famine, and Joseph becomes the most powerful man in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh (“Stone the Crows”). (Note: In the 2007 London revival, Pharaoh has a new song, “King of my Heart“).
Back home, the famine has caught up with Joseph’s brothers, who – led by the brother Simeon – express regret at selling him and deceiving their father (“Those Canaan Days”). They hear Egypt still has food and decide to go there to beg for mercy and to be fed, not realising that they will be dealing with Joseph (“The Brothers Come to Egypt”). He gives them sacksful of food and sends them on their way, but plants a golden cup in the sack of his youngest brother, Benjamin (“Grovel, Grovel”). When the brothers try to leave, Joseph stops them, asking about the “stolen cup”. Each brother empties his sack, and it is revealed that Benjamin has the cup. Joseph then accuses Benjamin of robbery (“Who’s the Thief?”). The other brothers, led by Judah, beg for mercy for Benjamin, imploring that Joseph take them prisoner and set Benjamin free (“Benjamin Calypso”).
Seeing their selflessness and penitence, Joseph reveals himself (“Joseph All the Time”) and sends for his father. The two are reunited (“Jacob in Egypt”) for a happy conclusion and Joseph dons his coloured coat once more (“Finale: Any Dream Will Do (Reprise)/Give Me My Coloured Coat”).
In some productions, the finale is followed by a rock/disco medley of most of the musical’s major numbers (“Joseph Megamix”).
- Narrator: A woman (in original productions, a man), not of the time or place of the action. The Narrator tells the story through word and song, guiding the audience gently through the story of Joseph and his brothers, usually gives meaning to the story with her/his words.
- Jacob: The father of twelve sons, his favorite being Joseph. At times he may appear unfair and shallow, but he is, more importantly, the prophet who recognizes the future and the calling of Joseph, thus saving the House of Israel.
- Joseph: Obviously his father’s favorite, Joseph early on shows a talent for interpreting dreams and telling the future. This gets him into trouble with his brothers when he predicts his future will include ruling over the other eleven. However, it saves his life when in Egypt he correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dreams. In the end he has risen to a great position of power, but he still forgives his brothers and brings his family to Egypt to partake of the bounty he has accumulated there.
- Three Ladies: These multi-talented women appear in the play as many characters: Jacob’s wives, saloon girls, dancing girls, and so on.
- Ishmaelites: Men of the desert, they buy Joseph as a slave, take him to Egypt, and sell him to Potiphar.
- Potiphar: A powerful and rich Egyptian, Potiphar purchases Joseph and puts him to work in his household, where he soon realizes that Joseph is honest, hard-working, and a great addition to his pool of help. When he grows suspicious of his wife and Joseph, however, he grows angry and has Joseph thrown into prison.
- Mrs. Potiphar: Beautiful and scheming, Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce Joseph, but is unsuccessful. However, she does manage to rip off much of his clothing just as her husband comes into the room, thus condemning him to prison.
- Baker: One of Pharaoh servants, the Baker is in prison with Joseph who correctly interprets his dreams and predicts that he will be put to death.
- Butler: Another of Pharaoh servants, the Butler is also in prison with Joseph who also correctly interprets his dreams, this time that he will be released and taken back into Pharaoh’s household. It is the Butler who tells Pharaoh about Joseph and his uncanny ability with dreams.
- Pharaoh: The most powerful man in Egypt, Pharaoh is considered a god on earth. When Joseph interprets his dreams, he promotes him to one of the highest positions in his government. In most productions, Pharaoh is portrayed as an Elvis Presley-style figure.
- Joseph’s Eleven Brothers: Although acting usually as a group, they each have their own different personalities, talents, and flaws. As a group they sell Joseph into slavery, but as individuals they deal with the following years and how they can make amends. They sing and dance their way through many situations and places. The performers also double as Egyptians in many cases.
- Reuben: Eldest son of Jacob; showed kindness to Joseph and was the means of saving his life when his other brothers would have put him to death.
- Simeon: Second son of Jacob; detained by Joseph in Egypt as a hostage.
- Levi: Third son of Jacob, by Leah; he went down with Jacob into Egypt.
- Judah: Fourth son of Jacob; he pleads with Joseph when Benjamin is falsely arrested for theft of a goblet; one of his descendants was to be the Messiah.
- Dan: Fifth son of Jacob, by Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid.
- Naphtali: Sixth son of Jacob, by Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid.
- Gad: Seventh son of Jacob, by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid.
- Asher: Eighth son of Jacob, by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid;.
- Issachar: Ninth son of Jacob.
- Zebulun: Tenth son of Jacob; he had three sons.
- Benjamin: Twelfth son of Jacob. Joseph accuses him of stealing the golden cup. After Joseph went missing Benjamin was beloved.
- The Wives: The wives to the eleven brothers (ensemble).
- Adult chorus
- Children’s chorus
- ^ “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”. Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
- ^ “Joseph benefits BBC Children in Need”. The Really Useful Group. June 29, 2007.
- ^ a b The Really Useful Group. “About The Show”. Retrieved 2008-12-29