By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
You just can't beat the Old Testament for family drama. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, at the Merriam Theatre, takes its plot from Genesis: 37-50; it's about twelve brothers (it's always brothers, isn't it?), all envious of the youngest, Joseph, their father's favorite, who has a fancy coat of many colors; they sell him into slavery and tell their father he's dead.
While in prison in Egypt, he becomes famous for being able to interpret dreams, and when he warns the Pharaoh that his mystifying dream foretells seven years of feast followed by seven years of famine, he saves the kingdom by preparing for the worst. Meanwhile, back in Israel, the brothers (and everybody else) are starving, and so go to beg food from Egypt's stockpile. And who should they find there, but....
And so it all works out, just as we knew it would (not because it's the Bible but because it's musical theater). In the course of much singing and dancing (what goofy choreography) and flashing lights, we've been taught lessons about envy, spite, generosity and forgiveness. Well, maybe not "taught" exactly: don't go expecting a musical of actual ideas.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was brand new in 1968, about a zillion productions ago. This young and energetic company is on national tour, and features Laura Helm as the narrator, a big role since this is a sung-through show. She guides us from the contemporary to the biblical, with surprising shifts along the way from big Broadway sound to calypso to a hoedown. Pharoah (Joe Ventricelli) sings his numbers as an Elvis impersonator ("It's good to be the king") while Simeon (Peter Surace) leads the brothers in the second act's comic show-stopper, the faux French lament, "Those Caanan Days." Patriarch Jacob (Marc Ciemiewicz) gets in a couple of chest bumps, and Potifar's wife (Britnee Byers) bumps a variety of body parts.
But the star of the show is, of course, Joseph, and JC McCann delivers with his smooth, big voice that brings down the house with "Close Every Door."
The finale, "Joseph Megamix," seems pointlessly long, both asking for and then preventing applause for individual actors. But the crowd was well pleased, and, hey, what else is a crowd-pleaser for?
At the Merriam Theatre, 250 S. Broad St. Through Jan.3. Tickets $45-95.