BWW Reviews: JOSEPH Brings Fun and Excitement to Durham
A new incarnation of modern classic Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is touring the nation, and has landed in the Triangle for the week. Starring Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, this tour is the current resident of the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Musical theater titans Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice took the well-known Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers and molded it into a musical comedy. The duo took plenty of creative liberties to enliven the story of a favorite son whose 11 brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph's ability to interpret dreams was his ticket out of slavery and up the ranks of society, eventually to reunite with his family in dramatic fashion.
The sensibility of the show is lighthearted comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously. It maintains a comic personality that rings true for a musical comedy written in the mid-late 1970s, and still has the feel of a pop culture piece from that era. The show is playful, often through its use of varied musical styles, from country to calypso and plenty in between. Director Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography echoes that playfulness - the creative and well-executed choreography includes dance from many different genres, and keeps the ensemble working hard all night.
Joseph... is not quite a play-within-a-play, yet it is firmly entrenched in that meta-world of theater which acknowledges itself as performance. Some moments in the show greatly capitalize on the meta element: a prime example of this is Paul Castree as Simeon in the second-act number "Those Canaan Days." Joseph's brothers, for no apparent reason other than perhaps the fact that it's funny, adopt French accents while singing about their plight since selling their brother into slavery, and Castree quickly wins over the audience by playing up both the sheer silliness of French accent in this context and the hilarity possible when a character "realizes" he is actually performing. A similar moment happens between the audience and Ryan Williams, who plays Pharaoh. In a uniquely Joseph... twist, the Pharaoh isn't just the king of Egypt, he's also the King of Rock and Roll. As Pharaoh Elvis feeds off the audience's energy, they return the favor with laughter and applause.
With the "we're putting on a show for you" vibe of Joseph..., some elements are purposefully and playfully cheesy, including glittery goats and playful anachronisms. The rest of the set, though simple, works to fill the space. The creative team was smart in their use of projection design, backdrops, and choreography to fill the large DPAC stage.
The two leads of the show, Joseph and the narrator, are portrayed by newlyweds Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, respectively. Both Young and DeGarmo are recognizable American Idol alums, though neither is new to musical theater, the couple having met doing Hair on Broadway.
On paper, the narrator part serves to lead the audience through the story while belting some impressively high notes, but doesn't have much in the way of a defined identity. DeGarmo is able to infuse a sense of character into the nameless role, injecting her charm and personality into the show. We already knew DeGarmo could belt the big notes (and she doesn't disappoint), but it's the vitality and charm she brings to the tale's narration which add that special something to the production. As Joseph, Young has the charisma for the always-look-on-the-bright-side personality of the character. Young is an overall good singer, but his wheelhouse lies in the lower parts of Joseph's tenor range.
The overall effect is a show that is high-energy, fast-paced, and fun. It's the kind of musical theater that doesn't take itself too seriously and isn't afraid to let its hair down and live a little. Those kinds of shows are rare nowadays, so let yourself relax, have fun, and just enjoy a night of entertainment.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs through May 18. For tickets and more information, visit www.dpacnc.com.