BIBLE BELTER

Forget Las Vegas! Fly over to Gammage Auditorium instead. You'll lose your frequent-flier miles, but you'll catch the most scintillating flash of flesh the law will allow. I'm speaking, of course, of that simple children's Bible tale, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. If, like most of us, you'd love to see the legal speed limit lifted, race on over to see a show that hurtles by at the speed of rock. The nonstop velocity of this juggernaut is that of the Arizona freeways.

When I saw this revival on Broadway last year, it struck me as the most spectacular musical in memory. Joseph doesn't rely on gigantic sets to produce its effect, like The Phantom of the Opera or Miss Saigon. Instead, it expends an outrageous amount of human energy to light up the stage. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was only 19 years old when he wrote this score, and lyricist Tim Rice 23. The collaboration produced a musical as fresh and invigorating as a cool dip on an August day. Originally produced in the United States in 1976 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, it had a limited run of 23 performances. The Broadway revival of 1982 ran for 747 performances. The current revival has been on the road for more than two years, and it is better than ever. For one thing, the current Joseph is Sam Harris, of Star Search fame, who thrills the ear with wondrous sound, while scorching the eye with pecs and abs sculpted like the Batman costume. Every ripped muscle undulates, and his long, blond hair provides a halo for an angelic face. What's not to love? Harris has curbed his tendency to hold each note by the throat until it gasps, and he has restrained his urge to ululate the big moments. The result signals that television's endless search for a star was not in vain. His voice is a natural phenomenon, fully justifying the lyric: "There's one more angel in heaven, one more star in the sky." Harris is surrounded by 44 adorable children from the Saint Simon and Jude School Choir and the Gilbert Fine Arts Children's Choir, in the most seamless blend of pop culture, commerce and religion ever amalgamated. The local kids perform brilliantly, and their tireless joy at sharing the stage with these Broadway gypsies is enough to make a curmudgeon cheer. In fact, I wouldn't want to know a sourpuss who couldn't enjoy this show. Joseph has more brainless bounce than any musical since Once Upon a Mattress, to recall a relic from the Dark Ages. A theatrical miracle, Joseph features the most innovative double casting I can recall. Only 11 brothers and their wives constitute a seeming Cecil B. De Mille cast of thousands. Originally conceived as a simple Bible story (told in a Vacation Bible School style), the current revival pulls out all the stops to appeal to everyone. Christians, Jews, Muslims--even atheists--may all find fun in this harmless tale. Children will delight at their siblings onstage, while Grandma will swoon at the reincarnation of Elvis Presley as the Pharaoh of Egypt (played with panache by John Ganun). The lovely kindergarten schoolteacher who narrates the tale is Kristine Fraelich, who can belt out the ballads like a Broadway baby. Glenn Sneed is hilarious as the patriarch Jacob, and Tina Ou and Tim Schultheis (from the Broadway cast) will leave you breathless with their dance. The English director Steven Pimlott has cleverly staged this saga of how Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers as a tale that grows in the imagination as it proceeds. The initial setting is nothing more than a simple chair for the storyteller and the multicolored robe of the title suspended on a hanger at the side of a bare stage. From the rear of the auditorium, the talented children of the Valley enter and assemble themselves onstage to hear the familiar fable. At once, a curtain rises to reveal the silhouette of a palm tree. As the story expands, so does the scenery, with many a corny visual joke along the way.

After being sold by his brothers, Joseph is thrown into an Egyptian prison, and is redeemed only by his accurate interpretations of the dreams of his cellmates, the Pharaoh's butler and baker (played with winning charm by Ron Kellum and Paul J. Gallagher). When the Pharaoh himself needs an analyst to explain his dream of seven fat cows and seven lean, Joseph's fortune is made. He is elevated to second in command of all Egypt. In the second act, the splendor of the Pharaoh's palace becomes a gilded slot machine that spews forth literal ears of corn when Joseph's repentant brothers come begging. The Vegas-style choreography by Vegas veteran Anthony Van Laast dazzles with gyrating acrobatics, and the curtain call alone is worth the price of admission. In what must be the record for an extended bow, it reprises each major song, includes an all-white costume change by the entire cast and lasts 20 hand-clapping minutes. You will be exhausted by your own enthusiasm, and you can confidently cancel your next gym appointment.

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