Review Roundup: Christina Bianco Led JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT in Chicago
Drury Lane Theatre presents Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, which opened on January 25th and will run through March 25th. The sung-through musical, notable for the many different genres covered by its score, is based on the Coat of Many Colors story from the Book of Genesis. When JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT was first produced on Broadway in 1982, though the music was fun and modern, the story remained in a Biblical setting. Drury Lane's production takes a new look at the musical, re-imagining it as if it were set in Las Vegas.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT features Christina Bianco, Evan Alexander Smith, Colte Julian, E. Clayton Cornelious, Nick Cosgrove, Paul-Jordan Jansen, Darcy Jo Wood, Anthony Avino, Nathaniel Braga, Tony Carter, Lexis Danca, Jed Feder, Nathan Fister, Brad Giovanine, Rachel Hafell, Julia Klavans, Kevin Nietzel, Nich O'Neil, Lindsay Loretta Prerost, Cara Salerno, James Monroe Stevko, Anthony Sullivan Jr. and Alejandro Fonseca.
The Creative Team: Alan Souza (Director), Grady M Bowman (Choreographer), Alan Bukowiecki (Music Director and Co-Orchestrator), Kevin Depinet (Scenic Designer), Ryan Park (Costume Designer), Lee Fiskness (Lighting Designer), Ray Nardelli (Sound Designer), Claire Moores (Wig and Hair Designer), and Kevin Loney (Projection Design).
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Elizabeth Diffin, Chicago Parent: The Vegas setting significantly alters the story - namely, by making it much more adult than Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's famously family-friendly show. This reimagining is recommended for ages 13 and up, thanks to the presence of showgirls, strippers and men in drag, not to mention the seductive Mrs. Potiphar. I have a friend who took kids, only to be startled by the decidedly grownup themes throughout the show. And although Bianco is indisputably gifted, her affected singing as various chanteuses makes it difficult to follow the plot if you're not already familiar. I'd even go so far as to recommend a quick refresher (in the book of Genesis or on Wikipedia) on the story of Joseph before you see the show. And while the modern takes on Lloyd Webber's 1970 music are certainly creative, I found myself wishing they'd dropped the Vegas gimmick at multiple points throughout the show. In particular, Smith's tour de force rendition of "Close Every Door" and the Brothers' anthemic "Those Canaan Days" prove that these performers can really sing, and I wanted them to be allowed to show off their vocal cred rather than be relegated to a stunt. While this original revival, directed by Alan Souza, isn't exactly my cup of tea, the reaction from the audience indicated that many others were enjoying every moment. The music is truly fantastic, there are some funny moments throughout, and the biblical tale of destiny, courage and the power of dreams remains as inspiring as ever.
Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times: The score (with sensational arrangements by Bukowiecki) is still a playful melange of pop styles (rock, country western, klezmer, calypso and more), but it now has shed the feeling of a Sunday school cantata for kids and become winningly adult. In addition to the fabulous contingent of singing, dancing brothers who must be named (Paul Jordan-Jansen, recently seen as Sweeney Todd at Aurora's Paramount Theatre, plus Anthony Sullivan Jr., Nick Cosgrove, Nathan Fister, James Monroe Stevko, Kevin Nietzel, Tony Carter, Alejandro Fonseca, Anthony Avino, Nathaniel Braga and E. Clayton Cornelious), there is a quartet of sexy, very leggy Vegas girls (Lexis Danca, Julia Klavans, Lindsay Loretta Prerost and Cara Salerno). There also are Jed Feder and Brad Giovanine - as a pair of doomed chefs - and a cardboard camel and goat with personalities of their own. But it is Bianco, a tiny woman with boundless energy and, in addition to everything else, great comic chops, who easily steals the show as, with whiplash speed (especially in a grand finale), she uncannily conjures the voices, personalities and body language of Britney Spears, Cher, Bette Midler, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey and many others. Astonishing. And it all fits perfectly with Lloyd Webber's score, with Ryan Park's icon-perfect costumes and Claire Moores' wigs. Bianco's work alone would be worth the price of admission. No, this is not your parents' or grandparents' "Joseph." But I will say both "bravo" and "amen" to that.
Lisa Friedman Miner, Daily Herald: Souza sacrifices story for stunts, and human connection for concept. And what a strange concept it is. The narrator takes center stage throughout, morphing from one diva to another, including a snake-draped Britney Spears circa 2001. Bianco is a talented impressionist and a powerhouse vocalist when she's allowed to shine naturally. Unfortunately, in adopting the singing styles of larger-than-life stars, Bianco is sometimes hard to understand. That's a serious drawback in a musical where the lyrics tell a vital part of the story. Smith plays Joseph with a befuddled charm, and the always-game ensemble, embracing one surprising scene after another, is strong throughout. Grady M. Bowman's energetic choreography is dazzlingly performed, especially by the talented brothers. Ryan Park's costumes -- which cross genres as readily as the music -- drive home the Vegas setting. At times, Souza's version seems to reflect a disdain for the material, soaking a sweet story in Sin City spectacle. It's fun in parts, but it's definitely not the "Joseph" fans have come to love. So if you're expecting a show akin to the long-running '90s production starring Donny Osmond at the Chicago Theatre or one of the more recent suburban revivals, think again. Unless you can picture Donny in drag.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: "Joseph" is a piece of proven entertainment value with great melodies, some life lessons and its own kind of charm. Souza and his crew send it up all night long, as if they were doing a "Forbidden Broadway"-style parody. Witlessly. They constantly mess with tempos and orchestrations, just so the numbers can better fit some celebrity impression of their own imposition ("Poor, poor, Joseph, what you gonna do/ o-o-o," a la Ms. Spears). So heavy is the sophomoric conceptual interference that the story actually becomes difficult to follow. "Joseph." Ponder that. The show improves very marginally in Act 2, mostly because of an actor named Colte Julian who shows up as Elton John-as-Pharoah. That's actually a surprise (we're expecting Elvis) and Julian commits to the truth of his man. (Ah! Truth! The hole card!) There also are a few moments when Souza finally seems to run out of Vegas parallels, the glitchy video board set finally quiets down, Bianco is mercifully off somewhere changing her costume, and the ensemble actually gets to do the show. Thus the brothers sound good on "Those Canaan Days." It is a brief oasis. The usual post-show, megafun megamix has been replaced with the poor and entire cast being obliged to stand there, stock still and smiling awkwardly, while Bianco cycles through her impressions - Shirley Bassey, Edith Piaf, on and on into campy obscurity, each in front of a still picture of who is currently being impersonated. Someone must have worried we would not be able to tell who she was doing. Right. But there also were more important things to worry about here. Like hoping Lloyd Webber or one of his minders do not walk through the door.
Photo Courtesy of Brett Beiner.