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BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects

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The national tour of THE BAND’S VISIT has landed in Los Angeles at the Dolby Theatre

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects

The national tour of THE BAND'S VISIT has landed in Los Angeles at the Dolby Theatre. The opening night audience gave the all-round talented cast a most deserved standing ovation. I had the pleasure of chatting with Joe Joseph (who's silky vocals inhabit the character of Haled) the afternoon post-opening night.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Joe!

Nice to speak with you, Gil.

How did you feel opening night at the Dolby?

It's surreal to be performing again, in the first place around the country.

But it's even more surreal to be performing an incredible place with a history of entertainment like Los Angeles. It's my first time in Los Angeles, my first time in California; so, it was quite surreal and quite special for me.

Your history with THE BAND'S VISIT began when you were cast as an understudy (for Itzik, Haled, Sammy, Telephone Guy and Papi) near the end of its Broadway run. Did you ever get to go on?

Yes, as Haled. The role I performed today is the very first role I ever performed on Broadway with Sasson Gabay and Katrina Lenk. In some ways, it's come full circle. And that's really wonderful.

As understudy for five roles, how much of a challenge was it for you to learn and differentiate each set of lines and staging?

Well, it really takes a detail-oriented person who has a strong ability to delineate what's important and what's not. Thankfully, THE BAND'S VISIT is a relatively restrained show that relies on a grounded kind of naturalism. So, trying to find a way to bring that to five different characters that maintains a sense of humanity is really the challenge. But I found my subsequent time with another show MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG was infinitely harder, and I only ever covered two parts. I think the beauty of the restraint of The BAND'S VISIT means that it's certainly a challenge to maintain the authenticity of the characters and the world. But a binder with colored tabs is really the key... and a couple copies of the script.

Do you remember what you had to do for your initial auditions?

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects I was called in. The litmus test seems to be "Answer Me." And if you can handle "Answer Me," it seems like you get to the next level. I was lucky enough to be given material from the show to work with.

I loved your "My Funny Valentine." Have you always played trumpet? Or did you learn it for your role as Haled?

No, I'm not like the incredibly diversified talents of the musicians on the stage. I learned for the show. So, my extent that is, is that and not much more. The musicians who have been a part of the show, they're the ones who are incredibly talented and play multiple instruments and can handle pretty much anything that gets thrown at them. I'm glad after the curtain call, they play another number.

I enjoy always seeing people running to get to the parking garage, and then they turn around halfway, realizing one of the best parts of the show is about to happen.

Talking about musical instruments, I love reading the special skills listed on an actor's resume. Would you be more descriptive of what your listed special skill of a "ruggedly-talented air bassist" is?

I have a great passion for funky bass lines and the energy from classic funk, soul and disco music, which has tons of incredibly funky, wonderful melodic bass lines.

There's a bass line in Papi's song that every time it happens, if you can imagine me air bassing along with it; it's happened. I hope one day someone puts it to good use, but we'll see. Remains to be seen.

How familiar were you with Chet Baker before you cast in THE BAND'S VISIT?

I was familiar with him, Some of his more popular recordings, largely his vocal, vocal jazz, and certainly "My Funny Valentine" and some other standards. Chet Baker's rendition of the song became one of the most popular version of the song. It's actually interestingly enough, a story song in BABES IN ARMS, but obviously had significant life after BABES IN ARMS, which is why we still hear it today.

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects But since becoming involved with the show, and obviously playing the role of Haled, I came to explore the greater breadth of his discography. He's obviously a fascinating figure. He's had a real up and down in his life, in his career and a sudden tragic, unexpected end. He is one of these James Dean-esque figures. These beautiful, youthful, iconic people who hide a darker past. But I've enjoyed expanding my understanding of this repertoire. I personally prefer and really love some of his instrumental works from the 50s and 60s and anything in and around the cool jazz and West Coast, a lot of which was recorded and was rehearsed in around this area in California and L.A.

Had you seen THE BAND'S VISIT before being cast?

Yes. I first saw the show in previews after it had transferred from the Atlantic.

I was blown away by it. And I thought, 'Wow! It's a shame that this incredible show will close in three or four weeks.' Because to me, it had such restraint and such subtlety, and was very much a piece of entertainment for adults. Most of what's in theatres is what I call entertainment for adult children. I thought, 'I don't know if the show has a chance in commercial Broadway.' I'm happy to see that I was completely wrong, and that people have the experience that I had of being really unexpectedly moved by it and enjoying the score and wanting to just delve back into it and get more out of it. I certainly did.

Had you worked with anyone in this touring cast or creatives before?

I was a part of the first national tour after Broadway. We have a nice collection of people who are part of the show core. Some new cast members, some of whom were a part of the Broadway company, my good friend Layan Elwazani and a handful of new people, all of whom have done an incredible job to become part of the show and the world of the show. But it's a really nice mixture. The creative team has remained the same since Broadway. It's wonderful to have them and their input and their openness to the constantly changing nature of the show. It's a nice mix of old and new.

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects What would your three-line pitch of THE BAND'S VISIT be?

I've actually whittled it down to one because this is actually probably the most difficult part of our jobs, trying to explain to people what THE BAND'S VISIT is about. My thing is 'A band gets lost on their way to a gig.' Okay, if you have to go deeper than that, 'It's a story about souls. It's about the things that we want, we lose and that we hold on to.' That's really the fundament of the show.

When did you get offered the role of Haled in this touring production?

After I worked with the Broadway company, I worked another show off-Broadway. In between that time, the show announced its closing and I had the opportunity to return to the company but chose to pursue this other opportunity, which I was very happy to do - MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG at the Roundabout Theatre. It gave me the opportunity to interact with Stephen Sondheim, who at that time just turned 90. Those experiences and seeing him in the prime of his late days were obviously an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

After that, I was offered to return to the tour. It seems like a decade ago, so much time has passed. I want to say it was the winter of 2019 I knew. Then I got to also sit in on the casting of the show as well. I got to see a lot of my colleagues auditioning for the show both for the tour and for Broadway replacements at that time. I knew that I was going to be in it, and I had a nice little time to take some breathing room, on track for one role.

What qualities of Haled would you submit in an online dating profile?

That's an interesting idea. It's a pre-smartphone world and I think about how people would have perceived and sold themselves during that time. Looking for music lover. Open to new experiences. Likes to have fun.

What character flaws of Haled would you definitely omit?

He's got a roving eye. He's a flirt. Hard to pin down.

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects What city was THE BAND'S VISIT in when lockdown happened last year?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

How were you feeling the first time, post-pandemic you were performing live as Haled on the Durham Performing Arts Center stage in North Carolina?

It was all very surreal. You go from zero to 100 to an extent. It was difficult to imagine going from more-or-less being on unemployment to back into a show eight times a week with 1000-plus people in the audience every night. It's that sheer feeling after a certain amount of getting yourself settled back in. It wears off really quickly. And in the end, it becomes the same thing that it always was. It has to be that. There is this need and this feeling that you get from the audience of the excitement that maybe you're the first show that they're seeing in two years. This exchange of energy, it feels more potent now and it feels more emotional in some ways. But in the end, it was work and we had a show to do. And so, you get the show on its feet. We had a short rehearsal time. You get back into it and then it's business as usual, with an added level of gravity. What's been put into stark relief is the value of our society and the way that it makes people perceive of their own experiences and their own lives.

You just recently opened in Hartford, Connecticut. Any responses from The Bushnell audiences take you by surprise?

They were one of my very first experiences, being hired as a member of the tour, was to sing at a season announcement function at the Bushnell in Hartford. This was with Jordan Fisher (who now plays Evan Hansen on Broadway) and Seth Rudetsky who was the host of the evening. It was incredible because being there two weeks ago, it was full circle, but three years had passed since then since I went there and gone. That we finally came to the venue and finally made good on that promise. It is nice because I think L.A. is having similar experiences that people were looking forward to the show. L.A. is obviously a big entertainment industry town BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects that people are tuned to the big shows, make successful entertainment entities. So, this show I think there's a lot of energy and people are interested to see it. We're making good on promises that we've made in the past and being able to provide that experience for people is very showing. I certainly felt that way in Hartford, very welcoming. And it's a beautiful, beautiful space.

Who were your singing and acting idols growing up?

That's a really interesting question. I try not to become too much of a fan of anything. There are certainly people who have heavily influenced

the way I look at performing, the way I look at singing. Prince is a big one.

The Motown artists I grew up with, a wide range of things musical theater, British Invasion, 60s rock, 60s and 70s hard rock. Some of the ones that really stick with me, I'm a big fan of Prince and a lot of artists from the disco era.

Acting wise, there's just so many actors who I respect their incredible ability to maintain an inherent dignity despite making them look as foolish as anyone's willing to make them look. I don't hold hard and fast at any ones in particular. I just think of isolated films and experiences. Rogers and Hart films and classic MGM movie musicals, but also the worlds of David Lynch. I think anybody who's able to carefully balance the sort of commercial appeal of film with more abstract and avant garde values generally has my attention.

You're booked through July 2022 with THE BAND'S VISIT. Any particular city you most excited to play in?

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects L.A. and San Francisco are two big ones. It's very exciting for me as a midwestern and now East Coast city boy to be in a whole different environment like this. I've heard really good things about Seattle. Very excited to see Vegas. Those are some of the standouts, for me for sure. And Detroit, which is home for me, that's really a big draw.

What special items do you keep on all your dressing room tables?

I have a picture of my mother who passed away when I was 21 which is always there with me. She's such a big part of why I do what I do. I have the lyrics to my song, so I don't forget them. I have a few pieces of memorabilia that I actually acquired from Alexandria, Egypt when I visited there in May 2019. And I have some pictures as well that put me back in that place, in that environment, just the sort of the world that we don't see in THE BAND'S VISIT, but it's the other half of characters in the show and it's the place that they're from. They bring that into my headspace before we perform. I think it's really helpful and comforting.

In your offstage time do you like to explore in your touring cities?

Oh, absolutely! Restaurants, sights, museums, the list is endless. It's always wonderful to be surprised to find things that you would never expect. It seems to be places like L.A., you can find one set destination and then on your way there, find six other fascinating things. Even in smaller markets, in smaller towns and places; there's no less of an ability for them to surprise you. It's always nice to be given an opportunity to experience some truly unexpected things no matter where you are.

Any particular theatrical role you would love to tackle in the not-too-distant future?

Some of them tend to be older, but I've always wanted to play Sweeney Todd. I look forward to being able to chew on that one day. I would really love that.

BWW Interview: Joe Joseph's Excited To Find Unexpected Surprises in His VISITs & His Projects You want to make Sweeney a bit younger, a bit angrier, call me.

I've learned though also, you can never plan these things that come your way. So just as much as I look towards classic musical theater and things that I'd love to do, the idea of being able to start on aground level and start with a new show, a new project and make a role truly your own, influenced with your humanity and your expression and your essence; that's more appealing to me than trying to find your way into an established product. You always look forward to those opportunities and any role that really challenges you and asks you to give everything. Accept nothing less.

With all the touring dates, do you still have time to work on your upcoming EP Blu?

To make something good, you have to not force it and try not to push anything too hard. So, it's finding the right time to let it speak to you and not try to push it out. I think it's so nice to be surrounded by so many incredibly talented musicians, with incredibly adapted gifts to give and provide and to help me and give me the opportunity to bounce ideas and collaborate with, whether it's me singing in the shower before the show or me sort of doing bits and pieces of recording and correspondence with other castmates and company members. You have to make the time but at the same time, you let it happen. You can't force it.

Thank you again, Joe! It was such a joy to experience you and your THE BAND'S VISIT cast elicit collective smiles and a most deserving standing ovation from the Dolby audience.

Thank you, Gil.

For tickets for the live performances of THE BAND'S VISIT at the Dolby Theatre through December 19, 2021 (as well as other scheduled cities); log onto www.thebandsvisitmusical.com/tour

If you can't make it to the Dolby by December 19th, THE BAND'S VISIT will return to Southern California March 22nd through April 3rd at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa.


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