By Barry Reszel
Way, way back several decades ago
Christina Bianco was a young lass of 10
Donny Osmond owned Chicago
With a tour of Joseph that would just never end
Donny, Donny and cast
Janet Metz was the narrator then
Donny, Donny and cast
Patrons went to see them again and again…
Yes, many musical theatre patrons (because of the ’90s Osmond rendition’s unprecedented 16-month residence and two return visits) consider Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to be Chicago’s musical.
That’s why this exciting, new Drury Lane professional production should be celebrated.
Simultaneously, however, the producers should be broadcasting a warning to those hopeful for an Osmond-like imitation. That came less than four years ago when American Idol couple Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young sleepwalked through the Equity tour stop downtown.
This is not that.
So, longtime Joseph fans, you have a decision to make. If you want to keep the Crayola box explosion of schticky fun as your sole memory of your favorite musical (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that), skip the Drury Lane production. Instead, get thee to a community theatre where a 90s imitation is likely a scant few weeks around the corner.
If, however, you might keep personal expectations in check (a good tip for anyone headed to professional theatre) and appreciate a contemporary (PG-13 rated) reimagination, featuring your favorite Webber tunes set in Vegas with Joe as a weary traveler staying at the Luxor, Jacob as a mobster, the butler and baker as Sigfried and Roy and the whole thing (captured by selfies) narrated by cameos from Céline, Shania, Cher, Britney, Bette… and a host of other divas…well, what are you waiting for?
Led by Director Alan Souza, whose vision made Drury’s 2014 Camelot spectacularly unforgettable, this Joseph moves from a distant land and time to a hotel room overlooking the strip in the entertainment capital of the world today. The well-known Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers is told via the handsome, wholesome dreaming traveler (played by Evan Alexander Smith), with brothers and scantily-clad Vegas showgirls popping out of every imaginable drawer or door.
Overseeing all this good-natured, adult fun is the incomparable Christina Bianco as the show’s narrator. If Smith takes a back seat in his role as the title character here (and he does), it’s because Souza’s vision is wrapped tightly in the impersonation talents of Bianco. Proof? She has no understudy for this show. (But if she understudied Céline Dion and had to sub-in during a concert, no one would mind a bit.)
No small amount of pressure there for the lovely native New Yorker with strong, gutsy vocals who morphs into numerous celebrity divas, each more captivating than the one before. Adding to the impressions’ overall effectiveness is impeccable costuming from Ryan Park. (See a sample of Bianco’s other-worldliness in the video here.)
Smith as Joe the traveler is a fine actor with a dulcet voice. He isn’t given the showcase of Josephs past because of the resetting. And because the take-aways largely belong to Bianco, showstoppers like “Close Every Door” and even the lovely “Any Dream Will Do” are fine, just not overtly memorable.
Joseph’s brothers, led by Paramount’s 2017 Sweeney Todd, Paul-Jordan Jansen, as Ruben, and ensemble, led by Lexis Danca as Potiphar’s sexy wife, are flawless in their vocals and execution of Grady McLeod Bowman‘s magnificent choreography, never better than in “One More Angel in Heaven.” Colte Julian is terrific as Godfatherly Jacob, Wayne Newton-esque Potiphar and a surprising Pharaoh. (You were expecting Elvis?) The other members of this stellar cast are E. Clayton Cornelious, Nick Cosgrove, Darcy Jo Wood, Anthony Avino, Nathaniel Braga, Tony Carter, Jed Feder, Nathan Fister, Alejandro Fonseca, Brad Giovanine, Rachel Hafell, Julia Klavans, Kevin Nietzel, Nich O’Neil, Lindsay Loretta Prerost, Cara Salerno, James Monroe Števko and Anthony Sullivan, Jr.
For the sensation of it all, particularly Bianco’s jaw-dropping talents (do not leave before the finale), it’s only fair to point out a few nits. In a production with “Technicolor” in its name, the muted grey/black/white color palette in the pirate/grunge fusion costuming donned by the brothers is disappointing. No trip to the Tropicana for “Benjamin Calypso?” Yes, there are opportunities.
And WTF, no berets for “Those Canaan Days?” Tim Rice‘s lyric literally leaves these brothers empty-handed on top of morally bankrupt. Finally, Joseph on stage, cowering under a table after already being sold into slavery, while his brothers sing and dance the daylights out of “One More Angel…” is head-scratchingly distracting. (That’s an easy one to fix.)
All said, there’s no doubt some Joseph “purists” who fail to read ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com and heed our warning to the nostalgia-burdened will want to run Souza out of town on a camel.
But here’s hoping Chicagoland will embrace this electric, reimagined Dreamcoat, because when it comes to musical theatre, at least, many dreams will do, not just one from the 1990s.
Drury Lane Theatre presents “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” through March 25 at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Brett Beiner.