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Joseph is too Technicolor

August 23rd, 2003 · No Comments

I returned Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat back to the library after watching only thirty minutes of it. Yeah, it seems after twenty-five years, I’ve finally lost my crush on Donny Osmond. …won’t my husband be happy:)

No, I stopped the DVD and didn’t want to watch any more. Reviewers at Amazon.com mentioned how much fun they had showing the film to their children. Yeah sure I’ll show it to my kids…when they’re sixteen, and even that might be too early.

I wanted to watch Joseph after seeing snippets of the musical performed by a girls choir. The lyrics to “Joseph’s Coat” enchanted me with the wondrous list of colors:

It was red and yellow and green and brown
And scarlet and black and ochre and peach
And ruby and olive and violet and fawn
And lilac and gold and choc’late and mauve
And cream and crimson and silver and rose
And azure and lemon and russet and grey
And purple and white and pink and orange
And blue

And the song “Any Dream Will Do” spoke to me of the spiritual seeking and desperation in our world:

May I return to the beginning
The light is dimming, and the dream is too
The world and I, we are still waiting
Still hesitating
Any dream will do

But watching the full musical on DVD was another experience. What bothered me the most – in the thirty minutes I saw – was the portrayal of Joseph’s relationship with Potiphar’s wife. To me, this is one of the key points of the story of Joseph, as described in the Bible:

When Potiphar’s wife “took notice of Joseph”, a slave of her husband, she said to him “Come to bed with me!” for he was “well-built and handsome.”

“But he refused…..’My master has held nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do a wicked thing and sin against God?’ And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. ”

Finally one day, she “caught him by his cloak” when no one else was around, and said again “Come to bed with me.” Joseph fled, leaving his coat behind. She then lied about him, twisting the tale to portray Joseph as the enticer with eyes for her. Joseph went to jail.

But what happens in the musical is that Joseph is overtaken by Potiphar’s wife (Joan Collins – who else?!) and her harem, a poorly dressed assembly of women wearing costumes that look like ones Madonna might have ordered back in the mid-80s. He is completely passive and lets these women do as they please to him: they remove his cloak, carress him, and he says nothing. Granted, he looks a bit upset, but surely he could have resisted or run, like the Biblical Joseph.

This key moment of character, this story of strength and standards instead becomes a picture of weakness. Instead of refusing and standing up for what he believes, he sinks into the sea of ease. I was quite disturbed.

“How could I do a wicked thing and sin against God?” Joseph “in Genesis 39” (a reference the narrator sings), knew right from wrong and lived it. He went to prison because he refused to pursue illicit pleasure. With this crucial facet cut from Joseph, he becomes a watered-down dreamer, not a man who resisted what was wrong. In our time and culture where those at the “top” of our society, our leaders: our presidents, CEOs, sports stars, celebrities, waffle and do wrong, Joseph – a true portrayal of the man and his character – could speak powerfully to people.

I’ll show this musical to my children only when they are old enough to critique it for what it is, and to see with sorrow how Joseph – and our culture – was wronged in this. Yes, the world is still waiting and hesitating….dreaming of a person like Joseph.

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