It's tempting to update many of the anachronistic pop-culture references built into Andrew Lloyd Webber's biblically inspired musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but some things shouldn't be touched.
"I've heard about productions where they've turned the Pharaoh character into Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber, trying to reach a new audience," says Ryan Williams, the Missouri-born actor playing Egypt's supreme ruler in the latest Dreamcoat revival arriving at the Orpheum April 22nd.
"They wanted to update this production, too," Williams says, describing the megamix created to give the show a more contemporary sound. "But when it came to Pharaoh, they wanted to keep everything just the way it was." Which is to say Elvis Presley — after whom Pharaoh was modeled — won't be leaving the building.
Presley was still alive and looking a little pharaonic in his dazzling jumpsuits when Dreamcoat originally opened in London's West End, but Williams promises that the show's well-known surprise still works its magic.
"I can hear it when I say my first line with a little bit of a snarl and a little bit of a twang," he says. "The audience knows it's coming. And once the reveal happens and you see the huge cape and the big pompadour, they're really with you. And really, really thrilled."
"I'm not only portraying Elvis, I'm also a huge fan," Williams says. "When I was a kid and told my dad I wanted to sing, he told me to listen to Elvis records. My dad's favorite all-time song is 'The American Trilogy.' To this day, I start my warm-ups for the show with the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme. It gets me pumped before I go on."
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at the Orpheum April 22nd-27th. orpheum-memphis.com