When I arrived for Drury Lane’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” I anticipated writing the sort of review where I express that while it isn’t my cup of tea, some people are into musical adaptations of Bible stories and those people should live their best lives.
Alas, my evening was destined to be full of squirmy discomfort while I sat soberly watching the theatrical manifestation of my personal hell.
In Drury Lane’s “Joseph” an average white bro goes to Vegas, checks into a hotel and has a trippy dream featuring a narrator with remarkable imitation skills (she performs as Britney Spears, Cher and Celine Dion) as well as a veritable army of mostly white men who envelop him in the story of Joseph.
Here are things that I believe to be true:
- Every single one of those performers are masters of their craft.
- A white woman imitating a black performer is racist.
- Styling Pharaoh as an imitation of Elton John is racist.
- Casting only one black man in an ensemble of eleven male performers seemingly so that this majority-white play can get away with a reggae-style song is racist.
- Performing that reggae-style song as a “tribute” to Beyoncé performed by one black man and ten white men is both racist and sexist.
- Costuming the entire women’s ensemble in hyper-sexualized outfits because the play is set in Las Vegas is sexist.
- An entire number where cisgendered men play heteronormative characters dressed in drag for no logical reason is transphobic and contributes to the false and harmful idea that trans women aren’t women. And if it isn’t transphobic, it’s at least sexist because it perpetuates the idea that women are lesser, emasculated versions of men.
This production wouldn’t be acceptable in any era, but in 2018, when conversations around inclusion, diversity, feminism and trans rights have never been louder or more accessible, how do these artists justify themselves?
The audience of older white folks around me asked each other during intermission, “Who is this play for?” One of them went so far as to lean forward to my companion and say, “Do the young people like this?”
I cannot name a single person who would like this show. My mother, who loves this script and this music, would hate this show. My grandmother would give her trademark elegant shrug, and say, “Makes no sense to me.” My associates would spend the entire time fantasizing about the power to disappear in a puff of smoke.
I urge you to do anything else with your money and time rather than spend two-and-a-half hours of your life inhaling this mess of haze, spectacle and thoughtlessness. (Emma Couling)
Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630)530-0111, drurylanetheatre.com, $47-$62. Through March 25.