'JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT'7 p.m., the Rep. $20-$35.
Some shows have all the luck. Or maybe it's more accurate to say — at least in the case of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — that some shows are more blessed than others.
How else do you figure out the amazing longevity of “Joseph,” which started out in 1968 as a 15-minute singing exercise for a British middle school? But composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice were encouraged (the main encourager being Lloyd Webber's father) to keep expanding their mostly sung recreation of the Genesis story of the favorite of Jacob's 12 sons. Lloyd Webber seemed to take the lesson to heart as he thereafter penned theatrical extravaganzas built around singing cats and opera phantoms ducking falling chandeliers.
It's safe to say the world-wide embrace of Webber and Rice's little show — which pops up repeatedly for national tours and splashy, celebrity-heavy (that is if you consider Donny Osmond a celebrity) runs — means the pair could have retired on royalties generated by “Joseph” alone. The Arkansas Repertory Theatre has enough faith in local enthusiasm for the show that it's bringing it back for the high profile holiday slot, Dec. 4 through Jan. 3.
While the Rep might be making a big bet with “Joseph,” it is doing so with a credit-heavy cast led by Alan Souza, a rising freelance director from New York City. Texas native Austin Miller, in the title role, was the second-place finalist on the NBC reality show “Grease: You're the One That I Want” and has had prominent roles in “Days of Our Lives” and “MadTV.” Todd DuBail is the Elvis-like Pharaoh, a part he has tackled before in national tours of “Joseph.” The cast of 19 adults and 18 children will be dressed in costumes made at the Rep (no small feat) designed by Rafael Colon Castanera and will sing and dance on a stage designed by longtime Rep set master Mike Nichols.
Over the years, as “Joseph” has become a theatrical perennial, the camp side of the show — a mix of psychedelia and over-the-top pageantry — has been underlined. Director Souza, who is staging the show for the first time, clearly wants to keep the “redemptive story” of Joseph at the forefront.
“We want to tell the story honestly, keeping in mind that it is such a crowd-pleaser but without falling into silliness,” says Souza. “But the economic troubles that fall on Joseph and his brothers are something that current audiences can understand.”
The director also emphasizes the quality of the production, that it isn't coming off an assembly line.
“This show has been done so many times that often what you see are sets and costumes pieced together from other productions,” Souza notes. “The value here is that this production won't be a facsimile. It will be created brand new for audiences here. The costumes will be made at the Rep and sets won't be flown in from somewhere else.”
Miller, who possesses the striking looks of a TV star, says that he's “wanted to do [“Joseph”] for years.” He almost had his chance, but problems securing a work visa kept him from performing the role in London's West End. He adds that he identifies with Joseph's tribulations and overcoming of adversity because of a “TV show that left me wrecked for a year.” Interestingly, he doesn't mention the show by name but one would have to assume it was the reality show that had him tantalizingly close to starring in “Grease” on Broadway.