BWW Review: Joshua Castille Lights Up The Green Room 42 with ON THE STAGE WITH JOSH
It was unusually quiet for a nightclub. There were plenty of people in the room. Three men at the adjacent table were talking, and another two or three people at neighboring tables; but the rest of the audience spoke not a word... with their voices. For the major share of guests at The Green Room 42 on August 24th were speaking sign language to one another, and these guests, deaf or hearing, were all excited to see On The Stage With Josh, an ASL cabaret presented by Broadway actor Josh Castille.
Castille, a veteran of stage and screen, decided to do an evening of American Sign Language musical performances after his viral video of the song "Survive" from HAMILTON caught the attention of Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, prompting friends to urge him into the cabaret world. Josh appeared in the ASL Cabaret's Halloween Show at The Green Room 42 in 2018, but On The Stage With Josh is his debut solo show, directed by Jules Dameron, his creative partner in the newly formed Hypernovas Productions. Sometimes when Castille performs his songs, he has a live singer alongside him while he interprets, but on this night his co-performers were all people known and loved by musical theater fans, Josh Castille being the biggest, as he was interpreting to cast recordings and soundtracks.
Explaining his obsession with musicals and, particularly, with roles written for women ("because they are so full of emotions!") Josh began the evening with an impressive performance from the musical "Six", with Mr. Castille performing the roles of all six of Henry VIII's wives. His lip-syncing was spot-on perfect, while his signing was fluid and fun, to say nothing of his dance moves, all playful sass and personality. Fully committed to every moment of the song, it was easy to wonder how he would be able to sustain the energy for 60 or 70 minutes of solo stage time, stamina he sustained for 90 minutes, delivering passionate performances to "Don't Do No Sadness" (from Spring Awakening) and "I'm Breaking Down" (the Stephanie J. Block recording), always with an enthusiastic dialogue with the audience between songs. That audience took particular delight in his "Popular" (with Kailyn Aaron-Lozano being a playful Elphie), and a fabulous "Mama Will Provide" performing to his friend Alex Newell's recording with his own brand of Mama-tude.
Assisting Mr. Castille with his dialogue was Victor Rivera, who sat before the stage with a mic, watching Josh and providing him with a voice, for those members of the audience requiring audible communication, rather than visual. Mr. Rivera created, with superiority, a vocal quality that fits Mr. Castille's overflowing and ebullient personality. At times it felt like the voice we were hearing was coming, not out of an amp, but right out of Josh's heart. It was interesting to watch the hearing people in the audience adapt to the new experience before them. There was no verbal reaction from the audience, no thunderous applause or cheers came after a particularly moving song - only deaf applause, which (for the benefit of those not in the know) looks like jazz hands, high in the air, waving appreciation and love at the artist. It was uplifting, heartwarming, to see how many of the hearing people eschewed clapping in favor of deaf applause. It was clear that Josh Castille had everyone in the palms of his deft and dexterous hands.
Unable to disguise who he is, content to share his real self, Josh spoke openly with the audience about the difficulties of being an actor, his devotion to Hugh Jackman ("He should be EVERYBODY'S Daddy"), the dream of creating a new dialogue through art, his passion for musical theater, and the story of how he and his boyfriend got engaged, proving himself to be an irresistible storyteller and an infectious personality. Moving easily between emotions with comedy ("Climbing Uphill" from The Last Five Years) and drama ("Pirate Jenny" as recorded by Nina Simone), Josh Castille displayed a wealth of talent, using all the parts of himself that come into view when the actor appears. One moment Josh was onstage, jovially telling the audience why his favorite composer is Stephen Sondheim, the next he was a gender-bending actor presenting a monologue with his entire physical being, as Dot in "Sunday in the Park with George, Jack in "Giants in the Sky" or Jamie in "Not Getting Married Today". It was a marvelous showcase of mad skills that, at about the 70-minute mark, caused this writer to look around to see if the other hearing members of the audience were still with him, or if they were getting bored, as people are known to do when exposed to something very different from what they are used to. That quick gander around the room caught glimpses of faces beaming with delight and bodies leaned forward to better examine the artist on display. They were, in fact, still with him, as well they should have been. Because, with his ASL cabaret, Josh Castille is at the intersection where sign language meets the lip-syncing of drag and the moves of interpretive dance to create a new kind of performance art.
Or, as George says in "Sunday in the Park with George", Josh Castille has created "something that is new, something that is my own".
Photo by Conrado Johns.
Josh Castille's social media handle is @castillejoshua