Look, I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber, I do, I swear it’s the case. The Conservative supporting idiot has subjected the public to some of the worst musicals ever made, and I say that as an enormous fan of the genre. But when he first started out his collaborations with Tim Rice were surprisingly daft fun, and this 1999 film version of Joseph And His Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond, Maria Friedman, Joan Collins, Christopher Biggins and Richard Attenborough is an enormously camp and ridiculous exhibition of silly fun.
Set in a seemingly stern and miserable school, the headmistress (Maria Friedman) then bursts in to song and the kids are treated to a crazy version of the musical, supposedly taking place on stage though this is impossible due to the scale and size of the sets. All of the teachers pop up during the production, with the headmistress taking the role of the narrator, Friedman is superb in the role not only having a fantastic voice but she sings many a song with a wink always lurking in her eye, which sounds painful but is meant as a compliment as she’s making sure we know never to take things too seriously.
For those unaware of the story, it’s based on the biblical tale of Joseph (Donny Osmond), son of Jacob (Richard Attenborough) who after being given a technicolour coat by his father and rambling on about his dreams which suggested he was going to have an amazing life, his jealous brothers decide to kill him. Chucking him down a pit he somehow manages to survive, and all rather handily too as some slave traders come along and so they sell him to them for a pretty penny. Joseph soon ends up as the favourite slave of rich bastard Potiphar (Ian McNeice) but Potiphar’s wife (Joan Collins) fancies him and tries to seduce him, being an upstanding fella Joseph tries to refuse but they’re caught in the act and he’s chucked in to prison.
This all works out really well for Joseph however as while in prison he decodes the dreams of a butler (Alex Jennings) and a baker (Christopher Biggins) and when both come true it leads to the Pharaoh (Robert Torti) asking for Joseph’s help with his dreams. And when Joseph tells him they mean Egypt is in for seven years of fantastic fortune followed by seven years of horrendous famine the Pharaoh is so taken with him (especially when his prediction comes true) that he makes him the second most powerful man in Egypt. But then his brothers come along and Joseph has to decide, is he going to stab them all in their faces? Or forgive them? Or both?
The songs are lovable but also often shockingly silly too, with one containing lyrics where Joseph mocks his brother’s penises with the line “My sheaf was was quite a sight to see, a golden sheaf and tall, Yours were green and second-rate, and really rather small” and in another at one point the narrator sings “Joseph’s brothers tore his precious multi-coloured coat, having ripped it up, they next attacked a passing goat” which yes, is part of the original tale, but the way Rice phrases it is obviously meant to make you laugh. The majority of the rest of the songs are also intentionally very funny, with the Pharaoh’s Elvis-esque tune being especially tongue in cheek stuff with a delectable performance from Torti, and only “Children of Israel” is overly earnest and a bit dull, but fortunately it’s the solitary disappointing part of the film.
There’s many other daft elements too which made me laugh a lot, from the appearance of a comedy snake when Joseph is thrown in to a pit to the manner the brothers claim that Joseph was killed by the aforementioned goat, for they’re well known for their murderous ways after all. Also great if bizarre is Christopher Biggins’ strange cockney accent, while Joan Collins is alluring as Potiphar’s wife and it’s a shame her part is such a minor one. There’s a really infectious sense of fun running throughout the whole film, and if the actors weren’t actually enjoying themselves then they all deserve Oscars.
Unlike Jesus Christ Superstar which despite being doolally a lot of the time is ultimately steeped in tragedy this is just an OTT bit of ridiculous madness, and while the songs aren’t quite as good (it lacks anything as powerful as Yvonne Elliman’s I Don’t Know How To Love Him, at least) many of them are extremely catchy and it’s a rare example of a mainstream musical being just as funny as the best cult ones. Sure it’s cheesy, but that’s not always a bad thing, and at only seventy six minutes long it’s a tight, bright and very cheery effort with great performances from all involved.