BWW Reviews: JOSEPH National Tour Starts Slow in Cleveland
The format for "JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT," a version of which is now on stage at the Palace Theatre, makes the show unique. In contrast to almost all musicals, except reviews, the show has no script. There is music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, but no spoken format for dialogue, no hints on how to stage the piece. Therefore, each production is dependent upon the creativity of the show's stagers.
JOSEPH is a musical interpretation of the Biblical story of Joseph, who is sold into slavery by his brothers, who are jealous of his being the favorite of Jacob, their father. Joseph, is taken to Egypt and sold as a slave. Oh "Poor, Poor Joseph." His master, "Potiphar" has a beguiling wife who seduces innocent Jo. The boy winds up in jail and laments, "Close Every Door to Me." But fear not. Jo has the ability to interpret dreams. Yes "Any Dream Will Do." His fate turns when he successfully tells the Pharaoh's butler what his dreams mean and there is hope, "Go, Go, Joseph." The Pharaoh is having nightmares, "Poor, Poor Pharaoh." Joseph is brought to him, and "Pharaoh's Dream Explained." The Pharaoh (who could make a fortune in Las Vegas as an Elvis impersonator) appoints him as his "next main man."
His brothers, who are starving back home, oh, "Those Canaan Days," and are unaware that their brother is now the second in command, come to Egypt to beg for food. They actually "Grovel, Grovel" before Joseph. Even though they have partaken in "fratricide", Joseph forgives them and gives them bags of food. But his golden chalice is "stolen." "Who's The Thief?" Benjamin? But, as revealed in "Benjamin Calypso," the whole incident is a ruse to test his brothers.
As happens in fairy tales and Bible stories, there is singing and dancing with a "Joseph Megamix" and the audience goes home happy. At least, many of them walk out pleased to have spent an "hour or two," with Jo and his adventures.
This JOSEPH is a reimagining of the show, which includes a great deal of new musical orchestrations by John Cameron. For those who have seen the show before, readjusting your ears may be necessary. Yes, the hip hop, tap, jazz, rock, calypso, disco and ballad sounds are still there, but many of the songs have a new contemporary sound.
Unfortunately, at least on opening night, all did not go totally well. The first act dragged. There was almost a chaotic community theatre feeling to the goings on. Maybe it was opening night jitters and the knowledge that the reviewers were there. Maybe it was all the constant moving of platforms all over the stage. Maybe it was getting used to the huge Cleveland audience and their reactions.
The second act worked much better, maybe because director Andy Blankenbuehler added shticks and gimmicks and scenic designer Beowulf Boritt eliminated all the dragging around of platforms and turned over the sets to the projections.
Another issue was the lack of continuity. Starting as a sleep scene (filled with wonderful fantasy projections, but which didn't forecast what was coming), the opening morphed into a very contemporary dance number in modern clothing. Then there was an unexplained transitional trip to Canaan, as we are introduced to "Joseph & Sons" and "Joseph's Coat." When the final song states that we are being taken "back to the beginning," why didn't we get a trip in time back to the opening scene? Hey, Mr. Blankenbuehler, words have meaning that tell us what to expect. They should be adhered too!
Another issue may have been the casting of Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, who are known to many, especially the younger members of the audience, for their appearances on "American Idol."
Adorable DeGarmo started singing in a high pitched voice, which partially abated in the second act. Young, he of handsome face and sculpted body, looks better than he sings, dances or acts. His voice sounded nasal. Both tended to sing words rather than meanings. They weren't terrible, just not what is expected of Broadway performers.
Ryan Williams, he of swiveling hips and the Elvis smirk and snarl, was point-on as the Pharaoh, stopping the show with his "Song of the King" and its several reprises.
Paul Castree (Simeon) and his brothers' French inspired "Those Canaan Days" brought the audience to life with their singing and plate-smacking and stacking routine.
Daniel Brodie's video and projection designs enthrall. Displayed on walls of gauzy material, on parts of costumes and on the stage curtains, they are a lesson in the new trend in Broadway musical theatre sets. (The woman seated behind me squealed, "How are they doing that?" on the first effect and continued to repeat that phrase throughout the visual displays.)
Blankenbuehler's choreography was well conceived to parallel the many sounds of the score. The young man playing Benjamin, who was not identified in the program, did some impressive gymnastics during many of the numbers.
Film rights to JOSEPH have been purchased by Sir Elton John. He, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, will produce an animated family feature.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: JOSEPH is one of my favorite escapist musical theatre scripts. I love the music, the creativity of taking a Bible story and making it into a pleasant family experience without getting preachy. The version now on stage at the Palace was not one of my favorite stagings of the show. Audiences will generally like it, but it could have been "One More Angel in Heaven," at least in show business firmament, but it wasn't.
"JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT" is scheduled to run through March 16, 2014. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.