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Fresh & Fun: Blake Hammond & Jeff Max Reprise Signature Roles in MSMT's JOSEPH


Fresh & Fun: Blake Hammond & Jeff Max Reprise Signature Roles in MSMT's JOSEPH

"This production is new, fun, fresh," says actor Blake Hammond who plays Jacob and Potiphar in Maine State Music Theatre's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT that runs from June 29-July 16.

"The show is pure joy," concurs his castmate Jeff Max, who plays the role of Pharoah. "There is something in it for everyone."

This praise, coming from Hammond and Max, has a special resonance. Both actors have a long history with this show and the parts they play, and both have worked together in memorable previous productions. Recounts Hammond, "I first played Jacob and Potiphar thirty-five years ago in summer stock and since then have also played Napthali and the Baker as well, so it is fun to come back to the original track of Jacob/Potiphar in this production. [Director/choreographer] Alex Sanchez doesn't have a lot of experience with this show, so he has fresh eyes for it; he's not repeating anything else he's done; it is as if we are learning for the first time."

Jeff Max estimates he has played the colorful Pharoah Ramses II some 2000 times. "I did it in Los Angeles, and Chicago and Boston, and Blake and I were in the Toronto and Chicago productions with Donny Osmond and on the national tour. It's the kind of show where you make lifelong friends. But, I am loving the fact that there are guys in this production who have never done it before. It's fun for me to watch them discover."Fresh & Fun: Blake Hammond & Jeff Max Reprise Signature Roles in MSMT's JOSEPH

Both Hammond and Max have long, distinguished and versatile resumes. Hammond hails from Texas and has numerous Broadway, Off Broadway, and National Tour credits, among them playing Edna Turnblad in HAIRSPRAY, appearing in THE MUSIC MAN, THE LION KING, and KISS ME KATE. He says that his career that has taken him to New York, Chicago, back to New York, and across the country and Canada is "a wonderful dream come true" and confesses that "my favorite thing in my career has been the touring around the country bringing Broadway caliber theatre to people who might not otherwise get to see it. I love seeing the country and so many different cities and watch them change over the years."

Max was raised in the Chicago suburbs and recounts how appearing in a first-grade talent show hooked him on performing. "When I heard them laugh - with us - that was it!" He entered University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as a theatre major but soon switched to economics. He went on to work a day job in marketing and to go to grad school at night but was feeling unfulfilled when he opted for a major change. "A friend called me and told me a local non-Equity theatre was doing GREASE and needed a Danny Zucko. I auditioned and immediately got a contract. After that I decided to take a job bartending, finish my master's at night, and pursue acting. I worked in Chicago, Washington D.C. and other regional theatres and after two years, I booked the JOSEPH tour." Max, who now lives in Los Angeles and is pursuing writing as well as acting, is excited to "be coming back to JOSEPH again; as I get older, I feel I am growing into most of my parts."

Max says he plays the Pharoah as a "big fan of Elvis. He picks up quirks from his idol; he wants people to adore him the way they do Elvis. The whole concept makes me giggle, so I know it will make others laugh too."

Hammond says his portrayal of the patriarch Jacob is grounded in the text of Genesis. "Joseph's mother was Jacob's favorite wife, and so he trusted Joseph to watch over the other sons in the fields. Giving Joseph this amazing gift [the coat of many colors] sparks inevitable jealousy, and the brothers sell him into slavery." Hammond talks about the contrast of Potiphar to Jacob who is struggling with farming and getting food. "He is the richest man in Egypt with this hot trophy wife who cheats on him over and over. He is not happy. It is all about greed."

Hammond says Director/choreographer Alex Sanchez relies on the Book of Genesis to ground his storytelling. "He tells the story from the Narrator's point of view. She's the only one who makes asides and talks to the audience. We are participants in the story. The production looks like an old Biblical piece, but the movement is completely modern 2022."

As Max describes it, "Alex's choreography is very fresh, very beyond. There are no extra beats or measures; everything is rationalized and reconciled and constantly flows."

Praising Sanchez as a dancer, Hammond adds, "Alex was a great dancer when I first worked with him in Chicago in THE MUSIC MAN. He has his influences - Fosse, Jerome Robbins - but then he does things like have everyone dancing in unison."

Max continues," As a dancer Alex has done ballroom, tango, jazz, and ballet. He draws on all of it; he's so detail-oriented about hands, arms, beats. This show has every genre in it, so the hoedown is crazy amazing. It's fun watching that ensemble dance together so precisely then switch genres and have someone in the middle doing pirouettes!"

Just as the choreography is eclectic, so too, is the score. Hammond says, "I love doing a show that is sung through like this one. It's a change of pace. In THE SOUND OF MUSIC" [where he plays Max], I have mostly book scenes and very little singing, so it's fun to be part of the musical journey here."

Both Hammond and Max relish the collaborative atmosphere that has fueled this rehearsal process. "When you only have a two-week rehearsal period," says Hammond, "a lot of directors would want you just to do what they say and not ask questions. Alex let's you try it to see if it feels right."

Max agrees, adding, "I sometimes text him with an idea. He is open to new ideas, so the process has really been fun."

Asked what the universal appeal of JOSEPH continues to be for audiences, Max replies without hesitation: "It has the same universal appeal of every Bible story; there is a reason for each of them to be there. This one is about love and forgiveness. And it is nice to have a family show with great music, great choreography, humor and a great message."

Hammond adds, "JOSEPH is also about redemption. Joseph takes his brothers back after they have treated him so poorly and says, 'I still love you.' How many families have similar histories [of estrangement] and then suddenly something happens to bring them back together again!"

And for Maine audiences, Blake Hammond and Jeff Max feel there are some special take aways. Max declares, " I want the audience to come away with joy. I want them to say, 'we've got to get a subscription!'"

Hammond observes that the joy will also be on stage. "As actors, we are just getting back to work again so to have people seeing the production, coming to the theatre again, and loving it..."

And with that thought, he segues to another that both he and Max warmly embrace: "I am happy MSMT is giving this beautiful, diverse season. For JOSEPH they have assembled the world on our stage - every ethnicity, every color - it is lovely to see. This show lends itself to being played this way, and I am happy they [MSMT] took the time and energy to make sure everyone is represented."

Photographs courtesy of MSMT

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT runs June 29-July 16 at MSMT's Pickard Theater, Bowdoin College campus,1 Bath Road, Brunswick, ME 207-725-8769

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