Monday, July 7, 2014

Review of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Pantages Theatre


Somehow I have managed to make it this far through life without ever seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, one of the more popular modern musicals. Well, I remedied this oversight last month at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California.

The Pantages has been a mainstay of Hollywood culture since it opened in 1930. It started as a vaudeville theatre, but it has hosted all manner of shows, operated as a movie theatre, and was even the home of the Academy Award Ceremonies for 10 years. Rumor has it that when Howard Hughes owned the theatre he had his offices on the second floor. Creepy. Anyway, the theatre had a $10 million renovation in 2000, and it is still in marvelous condition. For this show we had seats near the back of the orchestra section, and were able to see and hear everything well. It is a lovely place to see a show, with the added bonus of easy parking (for $10) and plentiful places to dine before or after the show. It is certainly worth the drive.

The plot of Joseph is pulled straight out of the Old Testament of the Bible, and it is a bit complex; if you are not familiar with the story you might want to study up ahead of time so you do not get lost. It is the story of a young man who is given everything, but jealousy from his brothers results in him having to start over again at the lowest rungs of society and make his way back to the top through his inner fortitude and the grace of God. The events are full of treachery and forgiveness, and thousands of years later it is still mesmerizing, whether you believe in the Bible or not.

This is a wonderfully written show, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, and it holds up well from when it was first appeared on Broadway in 1982. There is very little dialogue that is not sung, but the story still comes across loud and clear. Overall, the musical is very well-regarded, and it has won a trunkload of awards over the years.

The 2014 version of Joseph is a touring production, and it is making stops throughout the United States. The creative staff have done a wonderful job, with Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler taking on the director and choreographer roles. Beowulf Borritt (best name ever) took care of the scenic design, Howell Binkley designed the lighting, Jennifer Caprio coordinated the costumes, and Daniel Brodie handled the video and projection elements. This fine crew used all of these pieces and created a very tight show.

Almost 20 cast members were in the ensemble, and they helped make the show for me. They were great singers and dancers, and a good chorus is the essential glue that holds a show together. The group numbers with the brothers were the highlight of the show for me.

Wayne Green conducted the 14-piece orchestra that was mostly staffed with touring musicians, with a few locals thrown into the mix. Keyboards were used extensively to help make the mood in many of the scenes, and overall the orchestra did a fabulous job. There were no miscues or odd dynamics that drew away from the onstage action, which is just as it should be.

Joseph’s sets are first-rate, and in current style are relatively simple and are repurposed to achieve different effects and scenes. I especially liked the effect of changing the aperture of the stage using the front curtains, as well as the projection elements. Things like this keep old musicals fresh.

The lighting was well-done and cemented the mood for many of the scenes. Unfortunately the sound was muddy and poorly mixed at times, so I had some trouble focusing on and differentiating the music and vocals. In the year 2014 this is unacceptable – live sound equipment has come a long way.

Unfortunately the leads were the weak link of this production, though both are popular American Idol alumni. Ace Young played Joseph, and the nicest thing I can say about him is that he is certainly a hunky dude that looks good with his shirt off. His dance moves were wooden, and much of the material was out of his vocal range and style. Eeek – this is not an easy role to fill! Young’s real-life wife, Diana DeGarmo took the narrator role which is the like tape that covers over significant holes in the story. She has lovely stage presence and vocal range galore, but most of what she sang was sharp to the point where everything was shrill and edgy. This could have been a problem with not being able to hear the orchestra (see above), and if so, shame on the sound guys.

I am lukewarm on recommending this touring version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Everything was great except for the sound and the major leads, which says a lot. If you have not seen the show before it might be worth your time just so you can see what all of the fuss is about. If you are a diehard fan I would let it slide until it comes around next time. If you just have to see it, Los Angeles was only the first stop, and the tour will be traveling all over the country until April 2105. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Mahalo!

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