Short school and church musical; first album
Alan Doggett, head of the Colet Court's music department, commissioned the 15-minute piece from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for Colet Court's first school musical. Doggett conducted the performance with an orchestra, a rock group called the Mixed Bag, and singers from Colet Court, the preparatory school for St Paul's School. This first performance was given in March 1968.
Lloyd Webber's father, William, felt the show had the seeds of greatness. He encouraged and arranged for a second performance — at his church, Westminster Central Hall — with a revised and expanded format. The boys of Colet Court sang at this performance in May 1968, which also included the Mixed Bag. It received positive reviews: London's Sunday Times said it was a new pop oratorio. By its third performance at St Paul's Cathedral in November 1968, it had been expanded to 35 minutes and included songs such as "Potiphar".
Novello agreed to publish the work, and Decca Records recorded it in 1969 as a concept album. David Daltrey, front man of British psychedelic band Tales of Justine, played the role of Joseph; and Tim Rice was the Narrator. Other vocalists included Terry Saunders and Malcolm Parry of the Mixed Bag.
American and Young Vic performances
In 1970, Lloyd Webber and Rice used the popularity of their second rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, to promote Joseph — which was advertised in America as a "sequel" to Superstar. Riding on Jesus' coattails proved profitable for Joseph, and the U.S. Decca recording topped America's charts for three months. The first American production was in May 1970, at Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston, New York. Colleges and amateur groups expressed great interest in the show, and there were two professional productions in New York.
In late August and September 1972, Joseph was presented at the Edinburgh International Festival by the Young Vic Theatre Company, directed by Frank Dunlop. It starred Gary Bond in the title role, Peter Reeves as the narrator, and Gordon Waller as Pharaoh. In October the production played at London's Young Vic Theatre, and in November at the Roundhouse. The production was part of a double bill called Bible One: Two Looks at the Book of Genesis. Part I, entitled The Genesis Mediaeval Mystery Plays: The Creation to Jacob (at the Young Vic originally called simply Mediaeval Mystery Plays), was Dunlop's reworking of the first six of the medieval Wakefield Mystery Plays, with music by Alan Doggett. Part II was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Young Vic production was recorded for an LP released on the RSO label in 1972.
In February 1973, theatre producer Michael White and impresario Robert Stigwood mounted the Young Vic production at the Albery Theatre. The mystery plays which had preceded the original Young Vic productions were dropped, and instead the musical was preceded by a piece called Jacob's Journey, with music and lyrics by Lloyd Webber and Rice and a book by television comedy writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Jacob's Journey, which contained a great deal of spoken dialogue, was eventually phased out in favour of the sung-through score of Joseph. The first production of the show in its modern, final form was at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester.
MCA album; Broadway
A recording of the full musical was released on the MCA label in 1974, again featuring Bond, Reeves, and Waller. This is the earliest recording of Joseph to still be available commercially. Waller would go on to appear on another recording, in 1979, this time featuring Tim Rice as the narrator and Paul Jones as Joseph, on the Music For Pleasure label.
It was not until January 1982 that the show reached Broadway — at the Royale Theatre, where it ran for 749 performances. This Broadway production, starring Bill Hutton as Joseph, Laurie Beechman as the Narrator, and Tom Carder as Pharaoh, was recorded for release on the Chrysalis label, and is the first to feature the Prologue (dubbed on the Chrysalis release "You are what you feel").
Palladium production and Osmond video
With Jason Donovan, who had enjoyed a chart success after his role in the soap opera Neighbours, in the lead, the expanded show was restaged in 1991 at the London Palladium with Steven Pimlott as director, winning the 1992 Laurence Olivier Awards for set design and costume design. The cast album of this production was the #1 UK album for two weeks in September 1991, and the single "Any Dream Will Do" from it was also the #1 UK single for two weeks in June–July 1991. When Donovan left, former children's TV presenter Phillip Schofield portrayed Joseph.
In 1999, a video version with Donny Osmond in the title role was released, directed by David Mallet and Stephen Pimlott. Osmond had toured North America in the role and in 1992 had recorded a soundtrack CD. Maria Friedman appears as the Narrator; Richard Attenborough and Joan Collins also appear in the video.
The story is based on the Biblical story of Joseph, found in the Book of Genesis. It is set in a frame in which a narrator is telling a story (sometimes to children, encouraging them to dream). She then tells the story of Joseph, another dreamer ("Prologue," "Any Dream Will Do"). In the beginning of the main story Jacob and his 12 sons are introduced ("Jacob and Sons"). Joseph's brothers are jealous of him for his coat, a symbol of their father's preference for him ("Joseph's Coat"). It is clear from Joseph's dreams that he is destined to rule over them ("Joseph's Dreams"). To get rid of him and prevent the dreams from coming true, they sell Joseph as a slave to some passing Ishmaelites ("Poor, Poor Joseph"), who take him to Egypt.
Back home, his brothers, accompanied by their wives, break the news to Jacob that Joseph has been killed. They show his tattered coat smeared with his blood – really goat blood – as proof that what they say is true ("One More Angel in Heaven"). In most productions, one brother usually sings the solo; the song often segues into a celebratory hoedown after the bereft Jacob has tottered off the stage.
In Egypt, Joseph is the slave of Egyptian millionaire Potiphar. He rises through the ranks of slaves and servants until he is running Potiphar's house. When Mrs. Potiphar makes advances, Joseph spurns her. Potiphar overhears, barges in, sees the two together – and jumps to conclusions. He jails Joseph ("Potiphar"). Depressed, Joseph sings Close Every Door – but his spirits rise when he helps two prisoners put in his cell. Both are former servants of the Pharaoh and both have had bizarre dreams. Joseph interprets them. One cellmate, the Baker, will be executed, but the other, the Butler, will be returned to service ("Go, Go, Go Joseph").
The Narrator talks about impending changes in Joseph's fortunes ("A Pharaoh Story") because the Pharaoh is having dreams that no-one can interpret. Now freed, the Butler tells Pharaoh (acted in the style of Elvis Presley) of Joseph and his dream interpretation skills ("Poor, Poor Pharaoh"). Pharaoh orders Joseph to be brought in and the king tells him his dream involving seven fat cows, seven skinny cows, seven healthy ears of corn, and seven dead ears of corn ("Song of the King"). Joseph interprets the dream as seven plentiful years of crops followed by seven years of famine ("Pharaoh's Dreams Explained"). An astonished Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of carrying out the preparations needed to endure the impending famine, and Joseph becomes the most powerful man in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh ("Stone the Crows"). In the 2007 London revival, Pharaoh has a new song (King of my Heart).
Back home, the famine had caught up with Joseph's brothers, who – led by the brother Reuben – express regret at selling him and deceiving their father ("Those Canaan Days"). They hear Egypt still had food and decide to go there to beg for mercy and to be fed, not realising that they will be dealing with Joseph ("The Brothers Come to Egypt"). He gives them food and sends them on their way, but plants a golden cup in the sack of his brother Benjamin ("Grovel, Grovel"). When the brothers try to leave, Joseph stops them, asking about the "stolen cup". Each brother empties his sack, and it is revealed that Benjamin has the cup. Joseph then accuses Benjamin of robbery ("Who's the Thief?"). The other brothers, though, beg for mercy for Benjamin, imploring that Joseph take them prisoner and set Benjamin free ("Benjamin Calypso").
Seeing their selflessness and penitence, Joseph reveals himself ("Joseph All the Time") and sends for his father. The two are reunited ("Jacob in Egypt") for a happy conclusion. The show ends with two songs ("Finale: Any Dream Will Do (Reprise)/Give Me My Coloured Coat"), and for curtain call in some big productions, a rock/disco medley of most of the musical's major numbers ("Joseph Megamix").
Narrator: A woman (in original productions, a man), not of the time or place of the action. The Narrator tells the story through word and song, guiding the audience gently through the story of Joseph and his brothers.
Jacob: The father of twelve sons, Jacob definitely favors Joseph. At times he may appear unfair and shallow, but he is, more importantly, the prophet who recognizes the future and the calling of Joseph, thus saving the House of Israel.
Joseph: Obviously his father’s favorite, Joseph early on shows a talent for interpreting dreams and telling the future. This gets him into trouble with his brothers when he predicts his future will include ruling over the other eleven. However, it saves his life when in Egypt he correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dreams. In the end he has risen to a great position of power, but he still forgives his brothers and brings his family to Egypt to partake of the bounty he has accumulated there.
Three Ladies: These multi-talented women appear in the play as many characters: Jacob’s wives, saloon girls, dancing girls, and so on.
Ishmaelites: Men of the desert, they buy Joseph as a slave, take him to Egypt, and sell him to Potiphar.
Potiphar: A powerful and rich Egyptian, Potiphar purchases Joseph and puts him to work in his household, where he soon realizes that Joseph is honest, hard-working, and a great addition to his pool of help. When he grows suspicious of his wife and Joseph, however, he grows angry and has Joseph thrown into prison.
Mrs. Potiphar: Beautiful and scheming, Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce Joseph (unsuccessfully). However, she does manage to rip off much of his clothing just as her husband comes into the room, thus condemning him to prison.
Baker: One of Pharaoh servants, the Baker is in prison with Joseph who correctly interprets his dreams and predicts that he will be put to death.
Butler: Another of Pharaoh servants, the Butler is also in prison with Joseph who also correctly interprets his dreams, this time that he will be released and taken back into Pharaoh household. It is the Butler who tells Pharaoh about Joseph and his uncanny ability with dreams.
Pharaoh: The most powerful man in Egypt, Pharaoh is considered a god on earth. When Joseph interprets his dreams, he promotes him to one of the highest positions in his government. In most productions, Pharaoh is portrayed as an Elvis Presley-style figure.
Joseph's Eleven Brothers: Although acting usually as a group, they each have their own different personalities, talents, and flaws. As a group they sell Joseph into slavery, but as individuals they deal with the following years and how they can make amends. They sing and dance their way through many situations and places. The performers also double as Egyptians in many cases.
Reuben: Eldest son of Jacob; showed kindness to Joseph and was the means of saving his life when his other brothers would have put him to death.
Simeon: Second son of Jacob; detained by Joseph in Egypt as a hostage.
Levi: Third son of Jacob, by Leah; he went down with Jacob into Egypt.
Naphtali: Sixth son of Jacob, by Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid.
Issachar: Ninth son of Jacob.
Asher: Eighth son of Jacob.
Dan: Fifth son of Jacob; the tribe of Israel descended from him.
Zebulun: Tenth son of Jacob; he had three sons.
Gad: Seventh son of Jacob, by Zilpah, Leah's handmaid; brother of Asher.
Benjamin: Twelfth son of Jacob.
Judah: Fourth son of Jacob; he pleads with Joseph when Benjamin is falsely arrested for theft of a goblet; one of his descendants was to be the Messiah.
The cast also includes an adult chorus and a children's chorus.
Prologue - Narrator
Any Dream Will Do - Joseph & Children
Jacob and Sons - Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Children, & Ensemble
Joseph's Coat - Jacob, Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Children, & Ensemble
Joseph's Dreams - Narrator, Brothers, & Joseph
Poor, Poor Joseph - Narrator, Brothers, Children, & Ensemble
One More Angel in Heaven - Solo Brother (usually Reuben), Brothers, Jacob, Napthali, & Wives.
Potiphar - Narrator, Potiphar, Mrs. Potiphar, Joseph, Children, & Ensemble
Close Every Door - Joseph, Children, & Ensemble
Go, Go, Go Joseph - Narrator, Baker, Butler, Joseph, & Ensemble
Pharaoh's Story - Narrator, Children, & Ensemble
Poor, Poor Pharaoh - Narrator, Butler, Pharaoh, Joseph, & Ensemble
Song of the King (Seven Fat Cows) - Pharaoh & Ensemble
Pharaoh's Dreams Explained - Joseph, Children, & Ensemble
Stone the Crows - Narrator, Pharaoh, Joseph, & Ensemble
King of My Heart - Pharaoh (included in the 2007 revival)
Those Canaan Days - Solo Brother (usually Simeon), Jacob, & Brothers
The Brothers Come To Egypt - Narrator, Reuben, Brothers, & Joseph
Grovel, Grovel - Joseph, Narrator, Brothers, Children, & Ensemble
Who's the Thief? - Joseph, Narrator, Brothers, & Children
Benjamin Calypso - Brothers, Solo Brother (usually Judah), & Ensemble
Joseph All the Time - Narrator, Joseph, & Children
Jacob in Egypt - Full Company
Finale: Any Dream Will Do / Give Me My Coloured Coat - Full Company
Joseph Megamix (curtain call) - Full Company
Notable in the composition of the music is the variety of styles used by Lloyd Webber, including parodies of French ballads ("Those Canaan Days"), Elvis-inspired rock and roll ("Song of the King"), western ("One More Angel In Heaven"), 1920s Charleston ("Potiphar"), Caribbean style ("Benjamin Calypso") and disco ("Go, Go, Go Joseph"). Often, productions will make costume and prop changes to reflect each of the various musical styles.
"Prologue" is a late addition to the show, not included in any recordings produced before the 1982 Broadway production; the use of "Any Dream Will Do" at the start of the show (and the renaming of the closing version as per the above list) dates from the 1991 revival.
The UK touring production circa 1983-1987 (produced by Bill Kenwright), included an additional song "I Don't Think I'm Wanted Back At Home", which was originally part of Jacob's Journey. Sung by the title character, the brothers jokingly throw Joseph out of the family home, throwing a number of props at the lone Joseph who is seen in a spotlight – first a suitcase, then a cane and top hat, leaving our hero to tap-dance his way to the end of the number. The tune has been recycled into numbers in By Jeeves and The Likes of Us.
21st-century West End revivals
A modest production starring former Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, "with cartoon cut-out sets and props and naff panto choreography", previewed in Oxford in December 2002, before moving to Liverpool over Christmas 2002. It reached the West End at the New London Theatre in March 2003.
A 2007 revival of the London Palladium production at the Adelphi Theatre was the subject of BBC One's second search for a West End star, capitalizing on the success of the BBC's 2006 Lloyd Webber talent search series, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? This new talent search show, Any Dream Will Do, with the participation of Lloyd Webber and other theatre luminaries, sought a new leading man to play Joseph. More than 3 million viewers cast votes during the 9 June 2007 series finale, and made 25-year-old Lee Mead "officially the people's Joseph". Mead had given up his ensemble role in Phantom of the Opera, where he also understudied Raoul. The new Joseph production, which began 6 July 2007, was directed by Steven Pimlott, with Bombay Dreams lead Preeya Kalidas as the Narrator.
Tickets for the show's originally-planned six-month run sold so fast that in three weeks all tickets for the first three months were sold out, and the producers had extended the show's run — and Mead's contract — until 7 June 2008. Before opening night, the producers had banked £10 million in receipts from advance ticket sales. In his review for Variety, David Benedict wrote, "Mead delivers.... [He] is contracted for at least a year. For as long as Mead chooses to continue in it, Joseph is, commercially speaking, the safest of bets."
Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group donated all receipts from two special performances to the BBC's Children in Need charity appeal. Additionally, the money normally given to the cast for first-night gifts in July 2007 went instead to Children in Need.
In January 2009 Mead left the show and was replaced by Gareth Gates. The production closed later in 2009 to make way for The Rat Pack: Live From Las Vegas, but it is planned to return in late 2010.
In popular culture
In The Simpsons episode "We're on the Road to D'ohwhere", the devoutly Christian Ned Flanders is heard singing the ending of "Coat of Many Colours" when he finds his record of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Marge's yard sale.
In the Seinfeld episode "The Wig Master," Kramer is seen wearing the coat, which he borrowed from the Broadway production's wig master.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company has been known to mock the show during their performances, on one occasion suggesting that murdering an audience as they watched a performance of Dreamcoat would be an act of mercy killing.
In 2005, Irish radio personality Mario Rosenstock created a parody of "Any Dream Will Do", featuring his impersonation and send-up of José Mourinho, at that time manager of Chelsea F.C. The parody, "José and his Amazing Technicolor Overcoat", became an Internet sensation and was eventually released as a single in both Ireland and the UK.
An episode of The Venture Brothers introduced a villain named "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Nightmare Coat".