BWW Reviews: Pantages Hosts New JOSEPH Tour with Young and DeGarmo
To this day, long past its initial West End and Broadway debuts, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT---that ubiquitous stage musical with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber---has been a go-to staple of high school auditoriums and family-friendly black box community theaters throughout the Western World. And why not? Narratively simplistic yet joyously tuneful, the completely safe, somewhat milquetoast musical---based on the biblical story of Joseph, a young dreamer with fabulous outerwear (in the Book of Genesis)---has a similar appeal one might expect in children's theater.
This is probably why there is always some initial skepticism when a new "legit" production (which may tip in either direction) crops up every so often in a bigger theater. Is it worth dolling out big bucks for something you can see on the cheap at a local outdoor park starring the neighborhood kids---and get the same smile-inducing experience?
Well, okay... granted, the higher sticker price ideally gets you more bang for your buck: better production values, nicer sets, better-constructed costumes, fuller orchestrations, and, occasionally, better stage talent. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you even get a marquee star involved (well hello, Donny Osmond, lookatchu with them long flowing locks!).
So what's the big selling point for this new national touring production for the sung-through stage show, which continues its three-week stop at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through June 22? Well, how about a pair of better-known American Idol alums in the lead roles... a pair that also just happens to be married to each other in real life? (Cue the "awwws")
Enter fabulous power-belter Diana DeGarmo, the adorable runner-up of Idol's third season, who has since grown up to become a really impressive stage actress (she last wow-ed my socks off playing Doralee Rhodes in the revamped national tour of 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL). Here she plays the show's sassy, omniscient narrator opposite her husband, Idol season 5 heartthrob Ace Young who plays the title role. Both Broadway vets themselves (the two actually met as lead actors in the closing cast of the Tony-winning Broadway revival of HAIR), they do manage to bring star-power to the fun, but otherwise by-the-numbers proceedings.
But... Surprise! As peculiar and confounding most of the show is, this brand new touring production isn't so bad. In fact, it's actually quite an entertaining hoot once you abandon any pesky prerequisites for anything more deep and meaningful, and just focus on the show's outrageous silliness, much of it bordering on broad camp and over-the-top tomfoolery.
What you're left with is some adorable genre-hopping showtunes, plenty of fabulous dancing (by far the show's most enjoyable asset), and a really fun atmosphere that beams out from the show's hard-working ensemble cast. Watching these youngsters having this much fun and exude so much joy on stage is really quite something to watch. It is precisely this buoyant and infectious cheeriness that makes it easy to forgive this show's many long-standing shortcomings.
Directed and choreographed by Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler (IN THE HEIGHTS, 9 TO 5, BRING IT ON), this JOSEPH is an amped-up, high-energy party. Visually, the show is designed to distract with its shiny surfaces, even though some of the backdrops and projections feel very much on the budget-conscious side (a good iron/steamer pass on those fabrics and a steady projectionist should do the trick).
But, really, forget the fact that its thin thread of a story gets camouflaged behind the bright disco lights and Young's mesmerizingly perfect torso, abs flexed and sweaty to the rabid swoons of the audience... and just focus on the happy party people on stage! Plus, dang, listen to that awesome DeGarmo high note!
But beyond DeGarmo and Young, the show offers up plenty of individual standouts in the cast that really make the show pop. As Joseph's jealous-plagued brother Reuben, Brian Golub milks every ounce of country-western melodrama out of "One More Angel in Heaven" to hilarious results. Later, Paul Castree who plays brother Simeon, steals the show (along with his "family" ensemble) with the wildly goofy French-farcical "Those Canaan Days." Adding some calypso-reggae-infused soul to the mix is Will Mann, whose "Benjamin Calypso" as brother Judah in the second act is a musical highlight.Kudos also go out to Ryan Williams as the Pharaoh---who's less King of Egypt than he is the King. His hunka-hunka rendition of "Song of the King" is a winning, uncanny Elvis impersonation, even if his vocals sounded a bit too mumbled for most of the song. No matter... the audience ate up every hip gyration as expected, and it helped that he was backed-up by the razzle-dazzle of his co-stars.
As I said before, this show's hard-working, hard-dancing, melodious ensemble cast really sells this show more than anything, elevating the musical far higher than it probably should be otherwise.
But the real treat is DeGarmo herself... A pint-sized dollop of sweetness with powerhouse vocals that would be the envy of any budding diva. Guiding the proceedings like a sassy color commentator, her every appearance adds an extra zing (and some extra exposition) to the story. When her hubby Young finally joins her for the rousing, disco-flavored finale, you can clearly see how the two together make each other beam. In a smart move, the musical ends with a "megamix"---a disco reprise of the show's music---that really hammers home the idea of a party atmosphere as the cast takes their final bows.
As stage musicals go, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT may not be a deep well of genius, but it certainly entertains, even if it's mostly high-calorie filler and not a lot of substance. Surprisingly likable, this new production of JOSEPH is a lot more fun than I would have expected, which can be particularly attributed to the show's infectiously joyful cast. And, dang, I'll take silly antics and goofball talents over self-important doom and gloom any day.
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Photos by Daniel A Swalec courtesy of the Pantages Theatre. From top: Joseph (Ace Young) shows off his coat while the Narrator (Diana DeGarmo) sings its praises. Joseph is brought before the Pharaoh (Ryan Williams).
Performances of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT at the Pantages Theatre continue through June 22, 2014 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm.
Tickets can be purchased online at HollywoodPantages.com, by phone at 1-800-982-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Pantages box office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster outlets. The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street.
For more information, please visit HollywoodPantages.com.