Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Amazing? Perhaps Only to Idol Worshippers, as Solid 'Joseph' with DeGarmo and Young Fails to Reach Biblical Proportions -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Starring Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru March 30

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a fun, entertaining and rather short--under 2 hours--musical.

As the first publicly performed collaboration between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, its 1968 origins make it perhaps just the second rock-tinged musical--after Hair--and its pastiche of various musical styles deserves points for originality, especially given its creation date.

From an history of musical theater perspective, it is also interesting to note how Webber & Rice would evolve after Joseph with Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Phantom of the Opera (Rice didn't work on the latter) also being about rather iconic figures.

I doubt either Webber or Rice would call their somewhat hammy musical chronicling the biblical narrative of Joseph--son of Jacob--being cast out by his brothers their crowning achievement, but it's easily understandable why the show holds considerable appeal for groups of high schoolers and retirees alike, and many folks in between.

The Cadillac Palace was nearly full on the current tour's first night in Chicago on Tuesday, and with most of the balcony crowd bestowing a standing ovation, I can imagine many attendees doting high praise in telling friends and coworkers about the show. 

Photo credit on all: Daniel A. Swalec
So this is not a review meant to dissuade anyone interested from attending, disregard the affinity of others, nor rain on the parade of anyone intrigued by now-married American Idol alums Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, who play Joseph and the narrator, respectively.

Though not quite one of the very best, Joseph is a good musical and there's nothing bad about this production.

However, in my estimation, there is nothing particularly spectacular or special about it either.

If I didn't know who Young and DeGarmo were--and I haven't ever really watched Idol--I easily could have perceived the two leads being fairly inexperienced, run-of-the-mill non-Equity performers. (To be clear, this is an Equity tour, and both stars do have legitimate Broadway credits.)

Both are clearly good singers, but neither seems to have the kind of first-rate Broadway-caliber timbre that dazzles way up into the balcony with line-drive power.

Played by ex-teen idols aplenty--from David Cassidy to Donny Osmond--Joseph is a role that demands a good bit of overt personality, and though Young is fine (and certainly impressively fit given many shirtless scenes), he is also rather nondescript.

Similarly, the melange of musical stylings--country, Elvis, calypso, disco, etc.--offers several performers the chance for their "Master of the House" moment;  i.e. the opportunity to really raise the roof on their one song of the night.

Yet while no one was subpar on these numbers, there was also nobody sensational enough to make me really sit up and take notice. 

Only "Those Canaan Days" sung by Joseph's brothers was noteworthy for its verve and exuberance.

Even Young's prime solo spotlight, "Close Every Door," failed to sparkle like I've seen it done by others. 

Incidentally, earlier Tuesday I renewed my Broadway in Chicago "balcony club" subscription for another season and--with six shows for just $99--I feel it is one of the entertainment bargains anywhere.

But while many at Tuesday's performance undoubtedly experienced a "Wow! factor" due to seeing an impressively-staged Broadway musical at a downtown Chicago theater, as a whole I felt this version of Joseph was inferior to musicals I've witnessed at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Paramount Theater Aurora, Light Opera Works, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Theo Ubique and elsewhere around Chicagoland.

And with an increasing number of shows touring for the umpteenth time and/or featuring non-Equity casts,
the once unmatched allure of Broadway in Chicago presentations has routinely slipped below the stellar musical theater work being done by many local production houses. 

I applaud the patronage of live theater of all levels and types, and if you have a chance to see this run of Joseph for a ticket price you find reasonable, by all means "go go go." (Check HotTix for discounts.)

But if you've seen a great production of this show before, this one likely won't outdo it.

Heck, even the current design of Joe's famed Technicolor dreamcoat just didn't seem all that amazing.

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