The new rock opera Aida isn't lyricist Tim Rice's first foray into the world of ancient Egypt: in 1968 he and Andrew Lloyd Webber teamed up for the first time on a 15-minute children's pageant based on the biblical saga of Joseph, the dream-interpreting Hebrew slave who rose to power in Pharaoh's court. Expanded over the years to its current two-act, 105-minute form, this is a playful, family-oriented pop romp, a welcome alternative to the seasonal crop of Christmas Carols. This touring show--a smaller-scale production than the one that starred Donny Osmond at the Chicago Theatre several seasons back--never succumbs to self-importance as it tells an old story with an up-to-date mix of brattiness and innocence. The rolling sets aren't as extravagantly pyrotechnical as in Osmond's flashier version, nor does Joseph soar over the audience during the curtain call; but there's plenty of invention in costume designer Bruce Harrow's rainbow threads and Dallett Norris's direct, down-home staging. Rice's text, written in the first flush of youthful talent, is the perfect complement to Lloyd Webber's show-off score, with its flourishes of calypso, country western, French cabaret, pop rock, vaudeville, and early disco. A very buff Patrick Cassidy sings up a storm as Joseph, Deborah Gibson spreads zest and warmth as the story's narrator, and Eric Martsolf as the Egyptian king tears into his Elvis parody with pelvis-pumping gusto. No fewer than four second-generation Osmond siblings (Donny's nephews) play Joseph's brothers, delivering their brand of Mormon merriment--if that isn't a contradiction in terms--while the Lake Bluff Middle School Dreamchoir provides well-coordinated vocal support. Joseph began as a prep school prank, and this buoyant revival doesn't forget the show's sassy origins. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, Chicago, 312-902-1500. Through December 19: Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 1 and 6 PM. $20-$67.50. --Lawrence Bommer
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.