Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Theater Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat -- The Bushnell

Ace Young and Ryan Williams. Photo: Daniel A. Swalec
Dreamy Joseph Leads Tour of Wit-Filled Musical
By Lauren Yarger
I look handsome, I look smart; I am a walking work of art.”

That’s sort of an understatement in the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat stopping this week at The Bushnell. This Joseph, played by dreamy-handsome American Idol contestant Ace Young, whose finely-chiseled torso is on display for most of the show, certainly fits the definition of “work of art.”

The biblical character isn’t really singing about his physical appearance, however. In this operetta from the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who gave us other classic musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, Joseph really is singing about the coat of many colors just given to him by his father, Jacob (William Thomas Evans).

Jacob’s special fondness for one son doesn’t go over with his 11 jealous brothers (played by Paul Castree, Brian Golub, Max Kumangai and Brandon Hudson, among others). They tell Jacob he was killed by a wild animal and sell him into slavery in Egypt.

 “It's all there in chapter thirty-nine Of Genesis,” sings the Narrator, played by Young’s real-life wife, Diana DeGarmo, who also was a contestant on “Idol.” The couple met when they performed together in the Hair revival on Broadway.

In Egypt, Joseph first finds himself doing well, working for a rich guy named Potiphar (also Evans), but his master’s wife (Claire Camp) has an appetite for attractive men and won’t take no for an answer where Joseph is concerned (must be those abs….). Joseph lands in jail, where he stays until his knack for dream interpretation lands him in service as the Number Two to Pharaoh (Ryan Williams).

Now, before you decide that you don’t need any more Sunday School at the theater, the words “technicolor dreamcoat” should clue you in that this isn’t a boring lecture. Webber’s music. Directed by Wayne Green, is varied in style to lend some humor to the storytelling. Pharaoh is an Elvis wannabe; lamenting brothers sing in the style of a sad, French melody in “Those Caanan Days” – a real crowd pleaser -- then rejoice while doing a limbo-themed number (all directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, who also choreographs using a lot of hand and arm motions that seem awkward at times).

The Narrator fills in all we need to know about the story, and Rice pens some of the most clever lyrics written for a Broadway stage.

Go, go, go Joseph you know what they say
Hang on now Joseph you'll make it some day
Don't give up Joseph fight till you drop
We've read the book and you come out on top 
No matter how many times I listen to the score of this musical (and, OK, it has been a lot), I enjoy the lyrics.

When I got to try it on
I knew my sheepskin days were gone

Now that’s clever.

Any way, back to the show. Young has an adequate voice and does a nice job putting emotion into the show’s best known ballad “Close Every Door,” but seems still a bit wet behind the ears on the stage. DiGiarmo brings her high, strong, belting voice to the role. Her instrument is worthy of respect, but is a bit piercing for storytelling and some of the narration gets lost.

Bass baritone Evans does nice comedic turns as Jacob and Potiphar. The ensemble is impressive as well, with many minor roles enhanced with good facial expression.

Beowulf Boritt creates simple backgrounds on which videos are projected as enhancement (design by Daniel Brodie) and Designer Jennifer Caprio creates costumes that are a blend of ancient and biblical times (Egyptian looking pants with sneakers, for example).

It’s a brisk two hours with one intermission, even if the second act does feel a bit draggy by the time a very long curtain call (designed to remind us of all the characters played by the actors, followed by moment in the spotlight for Young and DiGiarmo) ends.

Joseph runs through Oct. 19 at The Busnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Perfromances are: 

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm; Sundays 1 and 6:30 pm Tickets $20-$80: (860) 987-5900;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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