Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is 40 years old this year and has been produced everywhere from Broadway and London's West End to children's theater troupes, yet it has little trouble remaining popular.
Clarissa Grace, who plays the Narrator in the national touring production opening tonight in the Stranahan Theater, attributes the popularity to the show's flexibility. She spoke in a telephone interview last week while traveling on a bus from Edmond, Okla., to Amarillo, Texas.
"The material in this show is so adaptable to whatever is happening in the pop culture," she said, adding that director Dallett Norris likes to bring in different props and references to current events. "In our production, for instance, we use cell phones and laptops.
"Different directors have been doing this for years, just to keep it fresh, because of course [many people] have seen Joseph maybe two, three, four times."
Unlike many shows and movies, in which the narrator in heard but never seen, the Narrator in Joseph is a key character, billed second to the title role.
Because the story of Joseph is taken from the Bible, there are a lot of little things that the Narrator pieces together for the audience, Grace said.
"I think [the device] is a really good thing to use, because it provides another sort of relationship that the audience can have with the character on the stage. The Narrator can break that fourth wall and speak directly to the audience, so it's sort of a nice touch."
In theater, the fourth wall refers to the imaginary invisible wall at the front of the stage, through which the audience sees the play. It helps the audience believe in the fiction as if it were reality, and when the wall is breached, such as the Narrator does when she speaks to the audience, it makes the viewers part of the action.
Joseph's story is part of the Book of Genesis. He is the favorite of the 12 sons of Jacob, arousing jealousy in his brothers. When Jacob gives Joseph a splendid coat, the brothers' wrath knows no limits, and they sell Joseph into slavery and tell their father that he was killed.
In Egypt, Joseph becomes a slave of the merchant Potiphar. His hard work earns the merchant's admiration, until the day that Potiphar catches his wife trying to dally with the handsome slave. Misunderstanding the situation, Potiphar sends Joseph to prison. There, the lad's ability to interpret dreams brings him to the attention of the Pharoah, and Joseph gets on the fast track for upper-level management on the Pharoah's staff.
Another reason for the show's popularity, Grace said, is the music. "We've got so many different styles in the music, there's something for everyone."
Those styles include rock and roll, country and western, calypso, French cabaret, and traditional Broadway-style show pieces. Probably the two most famous songs from the show are "One More Angel in Heaven" and "Any Dream Will Do."
Grace who calls herself an Andrew Lloyd Webber veteran, got her start in Cats about a dozen years ago, working her way up to the key role of Grizabella in the German production. She also did Starlight Express in Germany and joined the current tour of Joseph in September.
Although the tour is about midway through its current tour, Grace says the cast remains fresh and enthusiastic. "We love to see how the reactions of the audiences differ in the different cities."
It also helps that among all the one-night shows they do are the occasional multi-day runs, such as the four-day visit to Toledo.
"We get to sleep in and do our laundry, so we're loving the city even before we get there."
Theater League opens "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" tonight in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Performances are 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 18. Tickets range for $23 to $50. Information: 419-381-8851.
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