By Bill Beard
I’ve seen this Andrew Lloyd Webber show probably a dozen times. The first was at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Scotland, in the mid-1970s. I loved it! It played London’s West End in ’73, but didn’t play Broadway until 1982. However, since then, it has been done by hundreds of regional theaters, and has become one of the USA’s favorite choices for community and school production.
So, when I read there was a “new approach” being taken in the current national tour production, presented by Troika Entertainment and Independent Presenters Network, I decided it was worth taking a chance; especially since one of Rockford’s own sons was being featured as Simeon. Why not check it out? Glad I did!
The “new approach” was somewhat piecemeal, but there were some wonderful bits and variations. The pre-show dream effect, viewed through a scrim, gave us a smoke-and-projections preview of the story ahead, almost as a cartoon dialogue balloon above the sleeper’s bed. Other projections above and around the proscenium arch added depth and impression throughout, and occasional line changes and bits of business enhanced the effect. But there really was no overall concept for this “new approach.” In fact, the concept for this show is pretty well dictated by the script: a series of production numbers, each covering a specific segment of the story, and each one conceived with its own theme. The “Hoedown” number; the “French” number; the “Elvis”; the “Calipso”; all pretty much dictated.
And each segment was individually well developed, well shaped, with some special creative moments.
The highlight of the evening was certainly the French cabaret scene, with Rockford native Paul Castree as Simeon singing “Those Canaan Days.” This is a very talented guy! (See accompanying interview article, page 10). And in addition to his own unique interpretation of the song, the number led into one of the cleverest bits of business I’ve ever seen, with the whole gang seated across the stage at a dining table, using the metal plates, cups, cutlery, whatever handy, to create a fast and frantic percussive routine, with absolute rhythm and meticulous precision. Call it “table choreography” … it was great fun.
The leading roles here are, of course, The Narrator and Joseph himself. Capitalizing on their renown as American Idol alums, the show features husband and wife team, Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo. After each had done Idol, they later met when they were both starring in the Broadway revival of Hair. Both have done Broadway and television, and have recently released a country EP of songs they wrote together, Live to Love. Both have good voices, she handling the difficult range of The Narrator with ease and control and a lovely vocal quality; he with more of the country flavor, handling a wider range of styles quite well (with the exception of the poignant “Close Every Door,” which lacked some of the musical and emotional conviction required). His Joseph was quite charming, almost endearing at times.
The ensemble was uniformly excellent; harmonies beautiful; dancers first-rate, especially the exquisite Amanda Braun of Pace University! Individual kudos to Claire Camp as a very sexy Mrs. Potiphar, Ryan Williams as Pharaoh, Will Mann as Judah, Brian Golub as Reuben and William Thomas Evans as Jacob.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through Sunday, March 30. For tickets and information: 800-775-2000 or at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
From the March 26-April 1, 2014, issue