BWW Reviews: JOSEPH, You're Doing Fine
If there were ever a musical to imbibe as many ridiculous projections or pandering stage elements and props with, it's certainly Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." After all, it's not like any of these additions are going to be tampering with, say, a Sondheim masterpiece. In fact, it's not even tampering with an Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice masterpiece (as, I'd say, "Evita" would be theirs). Rather, "Joseph" is a fun, jubilant musical opera that's not meant to be taken much seriously at all. So, at the opening of Andy Blankenbuehler and crew's reimagining of "Joseph" on its tour stop in Chicago, when the beginning number was chock-full of projections, present-day costumes, and some overcrowded movement, I settled into my chair and accepted the night for what it would be: cheap, shallow entertainment. Which is exactly what it is.
Not that I don't think "Joseph" is a worthy musical. I hold a special place for "Joseph" in my heart (as many Chicagoans likely do, with the production that hit town years ago, starring Donny Osmond, in mind). But, the show is written to be fun and not much more (definitely not a masterpiece), so how can you a blame a production that is just that?
Blankenbuehler (who both directs and choreographs) completely strips the show of any serious moments it ever had; not a bad choice, certainly when also choosing to give into the score's pandering-for-applause elements and exposing the audience to sensory overload. Sure, I occasionally missed some of the moments that could have been given a little more weight, but, in this production, they wouldn't have come off as genuine. So, we have a Joseph telling a fellow prisoner that he is going to be executed in the near future, while not seeming to understand the implications of the news he is delivering. And, we have a "Close Every Door" (Joseph's big dramatic moment of despair in his jail cell) that comes off with an, "Aw, man!" quality rather than being motivated by deeper stakes. But, this is all fine. This production of "Joseph" doesn't ask much of us as an audience, so we feel okay not asking much from it.
Those who have seen other productions of the show may be disappointed to find that the usual show-stopping numbers are, although still upbeat, less powerful than is usually the case. With one exception: "Those Canaan Days," where the talented actors playing Joseph's brothers perform the only truly polished number in the show - one that the audience responded to with such rapturous applause, I nearly thought they were on the verge of a mid-show standing ovation. Not to take anything away from the number, which was truly great, but it certainly felt like this audience response stemmed more from the excitement of finally reaching that show-stopping status that was passed over in songs prior, than anything else.
There are other disappointments along the way: Ace Young's (Joseph) vocals leave us wanting; he is certainly talented, but his voice seems better fit for a rock-infused musical rather than a pop-infused one (his real-life wife, Diana DeGarmo, as the Narrator, fairs better in her role). And, much of the movement and choreography is a bit sloppy.
But, despite all of this, the production is still good enough to enjoy yourself and it certainly doesn't feel like a wasted night at the theatre. If "Joseph" wasn't intended to be a fun romp, this production's flaws would be more of a hindrance to the audience's enjoyment of the show. Luckily, that's not the case. So, after a grueling winter, letting yourself indulge in pure, fun (albeit sloppy) entertainment for less than two hours will do us all good.
Check out Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" when it makes its Chicago stop now through March 30th at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph). Tickets available at www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling (800) 775-2000.
Photo Credit: Joseph