Last night I had the chance to watch the direct-to-video 1999 film version of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Throughout the film, which was fast-paced and filled nonstop with a wide variety of generally very catchy music, I was reminded of the importance of context in watching a film. This is the sort of film one can profitably see many times–I happened not to have seen it before–because the details of the film are so interesting and because the songs are quite enjoyable to listen to and sing along with and dance along with, even, if you are so inclined. I must admit that I am not terribly familiar with many musicals , but this is not due to any hostility to them, but rather due to the fact that I simply do not come across them often. When I do, as was the case here, I find myself generally greatly amused, and watching it with people who were very familiar with it added the sort of experience that one would get as a fan of a cult classic, as this film could likely be considered by its fans.
As I mentioned before, a large part of what makes this such an enjoyable film to watch are the details. The film has a simple framing device that views the actors of the film as teachers at a school and the children’s chorus–which sings beautifully here–are seen as the students, interacting with the narrator and even laughing at her when she makes her entrance. The film has all kinds of intriguing details, from the Elvis impersonator Pharoah’s belt buckle to the trampoline-like and garish coat of many colors, to the intensely humorous sheep of Jacob and his sons. The costume design is quite excellent in this film, and consistently impressive–witness the wild scene in Potiphar’s mansion–although the sound mixing is a bit uneven between its softer and louder moments. Still, by any standard this is an immensely enjoyable musical and is definitely one that one could enjoy over and over again, not least because it manages to have a high view of the scriptures that it uses as the basis of the story. This is not to say that the translation from page to stage is a perfect one–there is some telescoping of Joseph’s interaction with his siblings, and one scene where Joseph looks in the Bible to figure out what Pharaoh’s dream means–but this is a movie that really respects the Bible even as it puts its own gloss on it, which is a vastly superior effort than a many contemporary efforts at using the Bible as inspiration for movies, which have generally failed on all levels.
In looking at this film, it is pretty easy to see that the casting was done to make the movie as diverse as possible–Judah and Benjamin are turned into black roles to fit the calypso theme of some of their music–but overall the acting is excellent. Donny Osmond is a stellar Joseph, clearly comfortable with the dramatic shifts in tone as well as turns of divine providence in this story from pampered favorite son to slave and prisoner to second in command over Egypt. Joan Collins plays a malicious Mrs. Potiphar, Richard Attenborough pays a frequently despondent Jacob, and there is a fantastic Apache Dancer in the rousing and nostalgic number “Those Canaan Days.” If you like catchy show music, there is plenty of it to be found here, from “Any Dream Will Do” to the Western-tinged “One More Angel In Heaven” to the catchy “Go, Go, Joseph” to the melancholy “Close Every Door.” With high replay value, strong production values, great music, and a talented cast, this is an enjoyable sort of movie, precisely the sort that makes me wonder what took me so long to get around to it.
 But see, for example: