The roots of Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic status as one of Broadway's most successful composers stem from "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," a show that debuted as a 15-minute cantata when he was age 19.
It eventually grew to nearly two hours, finally arriving on Broadway in 1982 and soon after becoming a staple in community and regional theaters.
"Joseph," with lyrics by Tim Rice, was first performed by Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities in 1997. It returns to the South Bay as part of the company's 19th season. An easy choice thanks to its family-friendly fare, uplifting and humorous songs, and its use of a cute children's choir of more than 20, this CLOSBC revival mines as much entertainment as possible from Webber's scattershot, repetitive score.
Two electrifying lead performances, a physically demanding dance number, some cornball humor - and, of course, the cute singing children - cannot erase the problems inherent to "Joseph." But those positives result in a pleasant evening of theater.
Director Ron Kellum doesn't diverge from what's expected of the popular show, which, with help from the Narrator (Kelli Provart), recounts the biblical story of Joseph (Eric Kunze), whose ability to interpret dreams leads him from despair to triumph.
Sold into slavery by his 11 jealous brothers who tell their father, Jacob (Paul Ainsley), that a wild beast killed him, Joseph winds up in Egypt. Thanks to his ability to understand the dreams of the Pharaoh (Robert J. Townsend), Joseph
assumes a place of power. And as with many family shows, there's the happy ending that drives home the theme of forgiveness.
Kunze, whose powerhouse vocals shined last season in the CLOSBC production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," again serves as a solid anchor. His Joseph is kind, but with a twinge of conceit that adds to the humor. Kunze's emotional range remains impressive, in particular during the show's low soulful number, "Close Every Door."
Not to be outdone, Provart, as the Narrator, shakes the rafters with her high notes during "Pharaoh's Story." Her enthusiastic performance matches Kellum's quick-paced direction, keeping the action moving.
The scene-stealing role is Pharaoh, and Townsend delivers with the requisite Elvis Presley impersonation for his rock 'n' roll number, "Song of the King."
Another highlight is the physically demanding dance for "Those Canaan Days," choreographed by Johnny Dean Harvey and Chad Everett Allen - and flawlessly executed by Jennifer Brasuell and Jason Deroest.
And while it's always risky to have so many children on stage, Kellum has them well-rehearsed. Their vocals are in tune and they added the requisite innocence to the proceedings.
Webber and Rice created several catchy songs for "Joseph" but the show's stumbling block since it was expanded decades ago is its repetition. Remove the first act recap after the intermission, a second lengthy medley during the curtain call, and the encores after a few of the songs, and you might turn Joseph into a tighter, 80-minute, one-act show. The repetition points to Webber's weaknesses in tune variation, and it does nothing to further the plot.
But CLOSBC, working within that constraint, still proves that Webber's first musical can be entertaining, and its positive message remains timeless.
Jeff Favre is a freelance entertainment writer based in North Hollywood.