YOU CAN'T CALL what Andrew Lloyd Webber does art (and I'm going to stand firm on that), but to completely dismiss what he can do for an audience would be irresponsible. Along with lyricist Tim Rice, his most frequent collaborator, the blockbuster composer has certainly brought the big Broadway musical to masses of people who had never even thought of experiencing the form, cannily puffing up middlebrow sensibilities with a swooning ardor that comes off as some spectacular gift. It's easy to feel a tinge of guilt when accepting a Webber bauble on its own terms, which is, I suppose, why I feel the need to run off at the mouth before relating the pleasures of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a Rice-Webber vehicle that has been given an infectiously sunny production out in Issaquah.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Village Theatre ends January 18
Joseph (Cheyenne Jackson), for the biblically impaired, is that impossibly chipper fellow from the Old Testament whose brutal brothers tire of his favored status in the eyes of their father, Jacob (Mark Angevine). Stripped of the magnificent title cloak that was a gift from the old man, Joseph is beaten and sold into slavery and compelled to chirp a couple of drippy, fiendishly catchy tunes before triumphing as an aide to an egotistical Pharaoh (Mark Siano).
Webber and Rice stitch together a cheerfully clumsy patchwork of song styles to tell the tale—there's a bit of torch, twang, and nearly every other popular form—which this production's spirited musical director, R.J. Tancioco, has enlivened enough to include a tongue-in-cheek rap. The score has less polish than the pair's later "rock" operas yet, thankfully, is also missing their future overreach. Rice's crass pop aesthetics, in particular, may have had difficulty meshing with some of the grander themes he and Webber went running after later in their careers (resulting in lyrical howlers like Jesus Christ Superstar's "God, Thy will is hard/But You hold every card"), but the sprightly impudence works here.
BEGINNING LIFE in much shorter (and probably more suitable) form, Joseph was actually the debut of Webber and Rice, and its callow youth requires a carefree earnestness. Starting with the tale as told to a choir of children, director and choreographer Steve Tomkins has, luckily for us, inspired in his cast a genuine happiness that puts across almost every moment. Yeah, there's a hammy face or two, and, OK, I caught a couple of kids looking a little unsure about their boogie. But the joyful numbers complement the score's kaleidoscope, and there isn't a soul in them who doesn't seem ready to show you a good time—nobody gets that glazed expression of feigned delight that so often sinks this sort of thing.
Lisa Estridge-Gray, who as the show's narrator doo-wops and swings and belts the story along, gives a crackling, boundlessly vivacious performance that makes up for whatever Joseph himself lacks. Jackson has a clear, wide, handsome voice but doesn't seem entirely grounded in his sandals. It's not all his fault: Rice never really makes clear how Joseph feels about his predicaments, and Webber's anthems cover the poor guy in sap. There's a reason the likes of Donny Osmond and Andy Gibb have essayed this role: It doesn't demand much more than the right notes, decent pecs, and a nice set of shiny white teeth.
Interest has started to wane by the time the calypso (yes, calypso) number rolls around, but by then the evening is almost over anyway. Give conscious credit to the show's imaginatively anachronistic costumes and vistas—kudos to costumer Bradley Reed and scenic designer Craig Wollam—then head home and let yourself off the hook for enjoying everything.