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Theatre / Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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Way, way back many centuries ago, not long after The Bible began...

It's part of the Book of Genesis... BUT WITH SINGING.

Really, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (abbreviated as Joseph...Dreamcoat, Dreamcoat, J&tATD, etc. etc.) is simply that: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Breakthrough Hit, his first musical to be performed, with lyrics by his frequent collaborator Tim Rice, and based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. It first released in the form of a Concept Album in 1968, before making it to the stage in 1972.

As a side note, this was the musical by which Donny Osmond, playing the titular Joseph, surpassed George Rose to take the World Record for Most Appearances as a Single Character in a Stage Production. Rose previously held the record for playing Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance over 5200 times on stage; Osmond surpassed this mark, and eventually would go on to play Joseph in over 7000 presentations of the show, including a filmed version.

Was later followed up by Lloyd Webber's other major biblical musical: Jesus Christ Superstar.

This show provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: While generally faithful to the Bible apart from the Anachronism Stew, the musical streamlines the story here and there. Instead of Joseph escaping from Mrs. Potiphar's advances and her retaliating later with a False Rape Accusation, her husband barges in during the seduction attempt and blames Joseph in a Not What It Looks Like scenario. Later, the brothers' two separate trips to Egypt are condensed into one, and instead of multiple Secret Tests of Character, they face only the "cup in Benjamin's sack" incident. The musical also never mentions that Benjamin is the only other son of Joseph's mother, and therefore Jacob's second favorite, which means that a layer of meaning behind the "cup in the sack" test (i.e. will the brothers abandon Rachel's other son the way they did Joseph?) is lost.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The initial production of Joseph was a school cantata that was fifteen minutes long. Needless to say, it's grown a fair bit since.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Benjamin and Reuben. In the Bible Benjamin is still fairly young when Joseph is sold as a slave and does not participate in the attack, throwing him in a pit, or selling him. Reuben is the one who convinces the rest of his brothers not to kill Joseph and only throw him in a pit, intending to return that night to rescue him. He also does not participate in selling Joseph and is angry when he discovers it. There are some productions where Benjamin objects to Joseph being sold and has to be held back by his brothers but Reuben is always portrayed (initially) as a villain.
    • In Benjamin's case it even gets a bit weirder: The musical mentions that at least part of Jacob's favoritism was due to Joseph being the son of Rachel, his favorite wife. Although Benjamin was Joseph's full brother, and also the son of Rachel, it makes sense for the favoritism to affect him because his birth was what killed Rachel. Some productions avert this by leaving Benjamin out of the kidnap scene and having him at Jacob's side during "One More Angel in Heaven".
  • Adapted Out: Joseph's Egyptian wife Asenath and two sons Ephraim and Manasseh are never mentioned in this retelling.
    • Joseph's sister Dinah, Jacob's only daughter, is never mentioned either.
    • In a way, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah. Rachel is referred to but never mentioned by name, and is presumably dead before the action starts, as the song "Joseph's Coat" heavily implies ("Joseph's mother, she was quite my favourite wife / Never really loved another all my life"). Meanwhile, Leah, another of Jacob's wives and the mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon and Dinah isn't even mentioned at all. Neither is Naphtali and Dan's mother Bilhah, nor Zilpah, the mother of Asher and Gad.
  • All Deserts Have Cacti: Justified - the "One More Angel" song is meant to have a Western feel.
  • All-Knowing Singing Narrator: When the show started out, it used to be interchangeably male or female, but later changed to female to make up for the disproportionate number of leading male characters in the show.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: The blue babes in Pharaoh's court.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Joseph and his brothers tend sheep the seven colours of the rainbow in the movie.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The butler and the baker who were thrown in jail for "doing their thing."
  • Anachronism Stew: The show deliberately embraces and revels in this trope. In particular, it goes without saying that the choice of genre for several songs would not have existed in the times of the Book of Genesis and make about as much sense as a rapping dog on the Titanic:
    • Pharaoh is an Elvis impersonator singing the rock-and-roll "Song of the King."
    • Joseph's brothers sing the country-western "One More Angel in Heaven" in cowboy hats, and one even says "10-4, good buddy!"
    • Potiphar is introduced with the 1920s Charleston-style song "Potiphar", which references getting rich by pyramids. (This song offers a two for one, since all the best-known pyramids were already centuries old by the time Joseph is believed to have lived.)
    • Joseph's brothers sing "Those Canaan Days" as a French ballad (with ridiculous fake accents and costumes).
    • Joseph's brothers sing "Benjamin Calypso."
    • Many productions include other anachronisms, such as the Ishmaelites paying for Joseph with a credit card, or having a slot machine on the set during "Grovel, Grovel."
    • During "Jacob and Sons" in the 1999 pro filmed version, the wives all roll past with several modern household item on top of their, possibly as a Shout-Out to conveyor belt of prizes on The Generation Game.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: "There's one more angel in heaven, There's one more star in the sky..."
  • And You Were There: In the film version, because of the Framing Device of the show being done as an actual school play, all the main roles also play teachers or other faculty at the fictional school.
  • Anti-Villain: Potiphar isn't really all that bad. He's just more faithful to his wife than she is to him, to the point where he'll have anyone locked up who gets involved with her.
  • Bible Times
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: There are various times in the film where characters interact with the narrator.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: In the film, Joseph imitates the Butler's British accent when he says "you'll buttle as you did before." Also, in "Song of the King," especially when played by Donny Osmond, Joseph imitates the Pharaoh's Elvis impersonation when he calls him "Mister Pharaoh Man."
  • Camp: The film, in spades.
  • Canon Foreigner: The Biblical Jacob had only two wives, Rachel and Leah (and two concubines, the handmaidens Bilhah and Zilpah). The musical has twelve wives to go with the twelve brothers, presumably so that there's a more robust female chorus.
    • Although the brothers did all have wives; several of them were married with children when Joseph was sold, as he was the second youngest of them.
  • Cardboard Prison: Played for Laughs in the movie, where Joseph's Oubliette is revealed to have very wide bars (and, if you can't squeeze through them, there's also a door).
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: In the movie when the kids run onstage, their uniforms instantly changed to more colorful clothes.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Joseph's ability to interpret dreams.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Some productions play Joseph as one of these. And it's definitely what his brothers think that he is.
  • Colorful Song: "Joseph's Coat" includes a long list of colors that Joseph's coat is:
    It was red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and gray and purple and white and pink and orange and blue.
  • Composite Character: Inverted. In early recordings of the show, it's an anonymous "lively lad" who tells Pharaoh about Joseph; in later ones, it's the butler Joseph's already met, which makes a lot more narrative sense. Were the two characters combined when the musical was revised? On the contrary—somebody must have gone back to the Book of Genesis and noticed that in the book, the lad in question is Pharaoh's butler.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: Even though the scene isn't really worth an eye-covering anyway (a dancer in a leotard), and even though Benjamin is hardly a child.
  • Crocodile Tears: The brothers shed them during "One More Angel in Heaven."
  • Cross-Cast Role: As written, the Narrator has no specific gender, and is played by a man in the 1973 Original London Cast recording. However, the part is now always played by a woman to compensate for the fact that, otherwise, there are no prominent female roles and only one named female character (Mrs. Potiphar) in the show.
  • Crowd Song: "Go Go Go Joseph."
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Benjamin on the steps of Pharaoh's palace, in the movie, after his Frameup.
  • Darkest Hour: Joseph's time in prison, expressed through the deeply moving "Close Every Door."
  • Dem Bones: In the movie when Israel is hit by the famine, their sheep are walking skeletons.
  • Denser and Wackier: Though always campy, in the 30-odd years the play's been running around the world, productions have generally gotten more and more aggressively wacky, with hammier acting, more Flanderized portrayals of the characters, more anachronisms, and a deeper embrace of the varied genres of the songs. Compared to a contemporary production, the Original Broadway Cast sounds like everyone's taken a load of valium.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: From "Close Every Door" - "Just give me a number, instead of a name" - coupled with the references to the Children of Israel - hark back to the treatment of death-camp inmates during World War II.
  • Double Entendre: Especially among high school productions, it's practically a contest to see who can make Joseph's dream about his brothers' small, green sheaves seem the most like a penis joke.
    • From the "Benjamin Calypso" we have Benjamin being "straighter than the tall palm tree/big bamboo" and "honest as coconuts."
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Zig-zagged. Depending on the production, the wacky musical break may portray anything from Mrs. Potiphar chasing Joseph around the stage to bodyguards holding him down while she has her way with him. Mrs. Potiphar molesting Joseph is one of the few things in the story that isn't played for hilarity, yet there's a goofy upbeat musical and possibly dance number playing. He clearly has the right to decline her advances, and she's clearly wrong for forcing herself on him, but you can bet however it's portrayed, will be treated more lightly than it would be with the roles reversed.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Joseph can predict the future by interpreting dreams. His own dreams, as described in "Joseph's Dreams," are Foreshadowing of the end of the show, when his brothers go to Egypt.
    • The first dream is of his brothers' sickly sheaves of corn bowing before his golden one. In Egypt, Joseph has gold finery and provides the brothers with food during the famine.
    • The second dream is of eleven stars bowing before his. During "One More Angel," the brothers refer to Joseph as "one more star in the sky."
  • Elvis Impersonator: The Pharaoh is a parody of Elvis.
  • Fanservice: Apart from shirtless Joseph, among the costumes featured in the movie version? Mrs. Potiphar's costume. Which looks like a bustier with pasties.
    • And her servants/handmaidens? Holy Flurking Sckint
      • Pharaoh's—later Joseph's—servants were even worse. Those women were wearing nets and had gold-embellished crotches.
    • Some productions even turn the wives into this.
  • Femme Fatale: Mrs. Potiphar. "She was beautiful but evil," indeed—and clearly more evil than Potiphar, who is simply a hopelessly faithful husband to an obviously unfaithful wife.
  • Framing Device: The movie has a load of kids in a primary school watching the play.
  • French Accordion: "Those Canaan Days" is an accordion-backed French-style ballad, sung by Joseph's brothers putting on French accents.
  • Funny Background Event: Several in the 1999 movie.
    • During "One More Angel," one of the wives takes Joseph's torn coat and starts singing over it. Then Asher tries to take the coat, dragging her with it, and they fight over it as the rest of the brothers are playing up their sadness for Jacob (Asher wins the fight and is wearing the coat when they dance triumphantly).
    • Joseph consults the Bible to interpret the dream during "Song of the King."
    • In "Those Canaan Days," one of the wives performs a dance that involves splits in mid-air. One of the brothers rushes to cover Benjamin's eyes.
    • Also in "Those Canaan Days," Benjamin and another brother struggle for several seconds to get Jacob out of his chair so he can join a kickline, then immediately put him back down.
    • When "Benjamin Calypso" starts, Joseph punches his own knee in exasperation.
    • During "Benjamin Calypso," Judah takes the narrator's cocktail and offers it to Joseph, but he refuses. She then reclaims her drink with a glare at Judah.
  • Groupie Brigade: During "Stone the Crows" in the movie.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Joseph would be perfectly happy being enslaved in Potiphar's house, if it weren't for those darn beautiful women trying to have sex with him all the time. Though to be fair, he worked his way up so he was basically running the house. As far as slave gigs go, it's not the worst you could get.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    Those extravagant, elegant soiree
    The gayest the Bible has seen
  • "I Am Great!" Song: Joseph's lines in "Joseph's Coat (The Coat of Many Colors)" are him talking about how great he looks in his coat and in "Joseph's Dreams" he's telling his brothers how he'll rule over them all.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Played for Laughs in "Those Canaan Days."
    No one comes to dinner now
    We'd only eat them anyhow
  • Incredibly Long Note: Builds to this with each verse of Those Canaan Days ("where diiiiiiiiiiiid they go"), until the final verse. Played differently depending on the production - the movie has the brothers intentionally stop, glance around at each other, nod, then repeat the note. Most school productions will play this as holding the note so long they run out of breath.
  • Interactive Narrator: Depends on the production, but in the movie? Interactive enough to dance with the brothers, flirt with Pharaoh, and get hippie-married to Joseph.
  • Introdump: "Jacob & Sons."
  • Karma Houdini: As in the source material, Mrs. Potiphar never gets any punishment for her infidelity nor for raping someone, who ended up getting locked up on her account.
  • Large Ham: The brothers, Jacob, the chorus, Pharaoh, Potiphar's wife, and the narrator usually are in later productions, which makes it a World of Ham.
  • Lighter and Softer: Than Jesus Christ Superstar, the other religious musical that Rice and Lloyd Webber are famous for.
  • List Song:
    • "Jacob and Sons" includes a long list of colors that Joseph's coat is:
    It was red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and gray and purple and white and pink and orange and blue.
    • "Jacob and Sons" also lists all of Jacob's sons.
  • Loincloth: Part of Joseph's standard slave attire in Egypt, and also all he wears after Potifar's wife forces him out of the rest of his clothes.
  • MacGuffin: the Technicolor Dreamcoat itself, which Joseph wears for all of five minutes.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Joseph had eleven brothers, as in the Bible, and half the opening number is dedicated to naming them.
  • Medium Awareness: A few of the lyrics suggest that the characters know they are in a show. For example, the Prologue has the narrator say that she will tell the story of Joseph since the audience are there for a couple of hours. The lyric "We've read the book and you come out on top" also applies; some versions go on to reference the performance venue itself, saying, "We've been outside, and you're on the marquee."
    • A lyric in Potiphar's song reminds audiences "it's all there in Chapter Thirty-Nine of Genesis."
    • In the movie, when failing to understand Pharaoh's dreams, Joseph flips through the pages of a Bible to find the answer.
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: Joseph's brothers in "Grovel, Grovel."
  • Minor Character, Major Song: Pharaoh!Elvis is onstage for about fifteen minutes (counting the contractually-obligated reprise of his single major song), but usually receives high billing in the credits and cast.
  • Mood Whiplash: "Benjamin Calypso," a cheery pseudo-Jamaican song which comes just seconds after Benjamin is framed for theft.
    • Also in "One More Angel," where the brothers celebrate Joseph's "death" while their father's gone, then pretend to cry whenever he arrives.
    • Also, the ensemble goes into the rousing chorus of "Go Go Go Joseph" just after the announcement of the Baker's death.
    • For that matter, the somewhat cheery, bouncy "Potiphar" segues immediately into the extremely dramatic, serious invoked Tear Jerker of "Close Every Door", which then leads into the above "Go Go Go Joseph."
  • Never Trust a Title: Though Joseph receiving his colored coat does set the plot in motion, it's not the source of his dreams nor his power to interpret them, as it's being called a "dreamcoat" in the title might have you believe. In fact, the coat is destroyed early on so Joseph doesn't even have it for most of the show.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Implied in a Black Comedy way in "Canaan Days":
    No one comes to dinner now
    We'd only eat them anyhow
  • Obviously Evil: Mrs. Potiphar, who is even stated to be evil. Inverted with Potiphar, who despite appearing to be a Fat Bastard is simply a hopelessly faithful husband to a clearly unfaithful wife.
  • Orphaned Etymology: After Joseph talks about his dreams, the brothers declare that "the writing's on the wall." This is an expression derived from an episode in the book of Daniel, which takes place long after the events of the musical.
  • Original Cast Precedent: The same person usually plays both Jacob and Potiphar, three of the brothers play the baker, butler, and Pharaoh, and sometimes Mrs. Potiphar will be played by one of the wives.
    • Averted in the movie, where instead the cast doubles as teachers in a school.
  • Overly-Long Gag: Pharaoh Elvis. First there is the Song of the King, which is followed by an encore of the Song of the King. Which is followed by a reprise of Song of the King. Which is followed by an encore of the reprise of Song of the King. And every iteration is even more over the top and ridiculous than the last.
  • Painful Rhyme: Many of the lyrics only rhyme in an English accent, leading to this when performed elsewhere.
    All these things you saw in your pajamas
    Are a long range forecast for your farmers

    His astounding clothing took the biscuit
    Quite the smoothest person in the district

    The greatest man since Noah
    It only goes to show ya

    First the butler, trembling, took the floor
    Nervously he spoke of what he saw
  • Parental Favoritism: The whole plot starts because of this.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: When Mrs. Potiphar forces herself onto Joseph, the scene soon shifts to a comparatively mundane scene, and we don't return to the previous scene until Potiphar walks in on it.
    Potiphar was counting shekels in his den below the bedroom
    When he heard a mighty rumpus clattering above him
    Suddenly he knew his riches couldn't buy him what he wanted
    Gold would never make him happy if she didn't love him
  • Reading Ahead in the Script:
    Go, go, go, Joseph, Fight till you drop
    We've read the book, and you come out on top.
  • Recurring Riff: Webber leans heavily into this trope in most of his works, and this is no exception:
    • "Poor, poor [whoever], whatcha gonna do?"
    • The Prologue becomes the prologue-of-sorts to the second act ("Pharaoh's Story").
    • "Joseph's Coat" becomes "Pharaoh's Dreams Explained" in the second act.
    • "Joseph's Dreams" becomes "Joseph All The Time," as Joseph essentially reveals to his brothers that the dreams have just come true.
  • Recursive Canon: The prisoners singing "Go Go Joseph" claim that they know Joseph will be fine because they've read the book.
  • Rhyming with Itself:
    And their father couldn't see the danger
    He could not imagine any danger
  • Secret Test of Character: When Joseph's brothers show up in Egypt without recognizing him, he decides to both get a little revenge and prove whether or not they've changed and thus deserve his help by framing Benjamin for theft. Rather than letting him take the fall and leave with the food (as they had sold Joseph into slavery so they could return home and, they thought, get their father's attention again), they proclaim his innocence and beg to be taken and punished instead.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Joseph being held down by Mrs. Potiphar's servants while she molests him, while a wacky tune plays that sounds more like it belongs in a carnival.
  • Stars Are Souls: In "One More Angel in Heaven", Reuben lies to his father that Joseph's soul has become "one more star in the sky" after his "death by a goat."
  • Sung-Through Musical: Pretty much the only spoken line in the show is during "Song of the King," when Joseph tells Pharaoh, "I understood the one about the corn, but I couldn't quite get the one about the cows. So, could you give it to me one more time...Mister Pharaoh Man...please?"
  • Token Minority: Gerry McIntyre plays Judah in the movie, who is Joseph's only black sibling.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Potiphar and his wife.
  • Villain Song: Potiphar and his wife get their own. The brothers get "One More Angel in Heaven".
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Joseph, who wears nothing but a loin cloth throughout most of the musical.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The brothers try to make it so that Joseph's dreams won't come true...And oh, how they fail.

Alternative Title(s): Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat