The Saturday List: “Joseph’s Coat” – or a List of Colourful Songs, Part 1

Promotional artwork for Pieter Toerien's production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Promotional artwork for Pieter Toerien’s production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

With Pieter Toerien Productions and the Really Useful Group presenting a South African revival of  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and that revival having had its first performance yesterday in Johannesburg, where it will run until August before transferring to Cape Town, I thought it might be appropriate to run through the famous list of colours that Tim Rice set to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music to create the first of three Saturday Lists, the following two of which will appear in the next two weeks.

The creative team of this production is headed by Paul Warwick Griffin, who will direct, with musical supervision by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and musical direction by Louis Zurnamer. Choreography will be by Duane Alexander. Earl Gregory stars as Joseph, with Bianca le Grange as the Narrator and Jonathan Roxmouth as the Pharaoh. (Bookings, by the way, are through Computicket.)

Here’s a list of songs from musicals which feature the first 12 colours of “Joseph’s Coat” as per the lyrics of the song. Actually, it’s only ten, because there are two colours that have me stumped. Any suggestions? Sometimes, the reference is to the colour itself, but at other times it’s a name or a fruit or something else completely.

‘It was red and yellow and green and brown…’

Our first song is “Red and Black” from Les Misérables. This song, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil (French) and Herbert Kretzmer (English), is sung at the ABC Café during a political meeting between a group of students who are preparing for a revolution that they are sure will follow once General Lamarque is dead. Red symbolises both ‘the blood of angry men’ and ‘a world about to dawn’ in this song.

Next up is “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” from The Wizard of Oz. Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg’s short number is a prelude to “You’re Off to See the Wizard” and is head when the Munchkins send Dorothy off to the Emerald City. There are several real-life yellow brick roads, two of which may have inspired Oz author L. Frank Baum. One is at a military academy in New Work and the other is near Holland, Michigan.

“Green Finch and Linnet Bird”, by Stephen Sondheim, comes from Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This song introduces the character of Johanna, who is kept in seeming captivity by Judge Turpin. “If I cannot fly,” the girl wishes, “let me sing.” The European greenfinch is a beloved songbird, commonly bred as pets in Malta, while the common linnet is declining in numbers and is protected as a priority species in the UK.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s “Sarah Brown Eyes” from Ragtime gives the character mentioned in the title of the song an unexpected appearance in the second act of the show. With Sarah having died at the end of the first act, her beloved, Coalhouse Walker Jr, recalls their first meeting. It’s a tender moment before the musical kicks back into high gear, with Coalhouse planning to blow up J.P. Morgan’s library.

‘And scarlet and black and ochre and peach…’

Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton wrote a title number for The Scarlet Pimpernel, a patter song for Percy Blakeney, Marguerite St Just, Marie, Armand St Just, Lady Digby, Lady Llewellyn and the servants. In the song, they all debate the identity of this eighteenth-century superhero who saved innocents from facing the guillotine during the French Revolution.

In, Hair, James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot wrote a song for three white women of the tribe to express their love for “Black Boys”. The response? Three black women of the tribe explain their love for “White Boys”. While this was an exuberant deconstruction of miscegenation which had been lgeally dismantled in the year of the show’s premiere, Hair tackled other issues about race with a more serious intent.

Ochre has me stumped. I can’t think of a musical theatre song that mentions this colour in its title.

No, No Nanette first hit stages in 1924, opening on Broadway and in the West End the year later. Three film adaptations followed, but it was a revival in 1971 that set in stone the legacy of this show and its score, which was penned by Irving Caesar, Otto Harbach and Vincent Youmans. At the top of the second act, Nanette goes to Atlantic City and quickly becomes the most popular girl in town, the “Peach on the Beach”.

‘And ruby and olive and violet and fawn…’

Some people might consider listing Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Ruby Baby” a cheat. But this song comes from one of my favourite revues, Smokey Joe’s Café, and I prefer it to any of the other options. (There aren’t that many.) This song about a girl called Ruby who doesn’t return the affections of the singer has been recorded by, amongst others, The Drifters, The Beach Boys, Bobby Darin and Michael Park with the original Broadway cast.

In Kismet, Robert Wright and George Forrest asked, using the music of Alexander Borodin, ‘Why be content with an olive when you could have the tree? / Why be content to be nothing, when there’s nothing you couldn’t be?’ Who would have thought that such profound thoughts could be set to the third act trio from Prince Igor? They also told us, ‘If you have heard and do not heed / There is a word for what you are / … Fool!’

I’m glad that I am able to include a song by Jeanine Tesori on this list. This one is called “Promise Me Violet” and has lyrics by Brian Crawley. The situation is this. Monty asks Violet, who is on her way to Tulsa, to meet him when she returns to Fort Smith, where he says he’ll be waiting for her. It’s so seductive. I’d probably succumb. Violet, on the other hand, promises no such thing before the bus pulls away. Rats…

Fawn is another colour that has me stumped. I thought I might find something in The Yearling, but it was not to be…

So… what do you think of the list so far? Which songs would you have picked for these colours? Any suggestions for the upcoming weeks? While you think about that, enjoy this playlist of the songs mentioned in this column, and then head on to the comments section below!

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