Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
A crazy mixture of musical genres, clever lyrics that span the millennia in references, and a story of biblical proportions about a boy's dreams that save a nation and his family all combine to make Joseph a perennial favorite of young and old alike, no matter how many times it is revived. Knowing that, Broadway by the Bay is one of the latest companies to stage the Webber/Rice classic with a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that soars to the heavens. A cast of thirty-six sing and dance with enough zeal for the story and zest for its delivery to raise the roof of Redwood City's venerable Fox Theatre.
As eleven adorable kids gather around her, the Narrator sings in a voice enticing and inviting, "All I need is an hour or two to tell the tale of a dreamer like you." In a stunning, red jumpsuit, Chelsey Ristaino begins her ever-present roam of the stage to provide in song the missing pieces of the storyline not told in the other songs of the biblical story's main characters. Throughout, she brings a voice capable of electrifying with its clarity and a personality that sells the story of this boy Joseph and his life of ups and downs that ends in triumph of spirit.
As three hieroglyph-covered panels withdraw, Joseph walks down the pyramid-like steps of Kuo-Hao Lo's designed stage to sing, as if already declaring victory, "Any Dream Will Do." As Joseph, Matt Ono looks around him with the wide-eyed wonder of a boy, as if seeing each and every thing for the first time. But he quickly shifts into a cocky, show-off, smirky grin that drives his eleven brothers nuts as the dreamer walks around smugly reading a yellow and black covered "Interpretation for Dummies." Joseph only mocks them more as they try to snarl and snare at him with a few thrown punches whenever the boy's adoring father, Jacob, is not looking.
Once he dons the magnificent coat of many colors that his father gives him and starts parading around bragging, "I look handsome, I look smart. I am walking work of art," the plotting of the brothers for Joseph's demise is already in the making as they sing, "We have never liked him all that much before, and now this coat has got our goat" ("Joseph's Coat"). Adding fuel to the fire, the brothers' wives become enthralled with Joseph's coat, forming a circle around him and showing off the coat as they raise its spangled glory while he and they go round and round. (The fabulous coat is just one of scores of eye-popping, glittery, spangled costumes designed by Bethany Deal that together are a show unto themselves.)
Matt Ono's Joseph continues to reign supreme throughout his soon-forced saunter into slavery in Egypt, providing many more sung ditties that dazzle with his inherent charisma. However, one of his most impressive moments will be from a dungeon's cell in Egypt where a forlorn, near-defeated Joseph sings a probing "Close Every Door," a precursor in tone and sound to Jesus's "Gethsemane" of the next Webber/Rice collaboration, Jesus Christ Superstar.
Where any production of particularly shines and delights audiences again and again is in its array of musical numbers that span a wide range of styles and time periods, usually delivered in part or whole by a stage full of the eleven brothers and an ensemble of their wives or of female Egyptian servants/dancers. In a number with all the twang, stomp, and kick of a western hoedown, Reuben (Scott Taylor-Cole) leads his brothers and wives in "One More Angel in Heaven." Reuben hilariously feigns sorrow as he tells Jacob that Joseph has been massacred in the desert by a goat, turning the funereal scene into a Saturday night hootenanny as soon as poor ol' Jacob (played with ancient dawdling by Chris Fernandez) wanders off weeping.
The 1920s revive in a roaring manner as the pyramid-enriched Egyptian owner of now-slave Joseph, Potiphar (Nathan Temby), sings a number bearing his name while his wife (Jennifer Martinelli) entices a naïve Joseph to her bed. Several musical decades are jumped as a 1970s go-go number ends the first half, with the full cast in varying shades of pink, encouraging Joseph (now in his jail cell) not to give up. Singing "Go, Go, Go Joseph," they swim, do the chicken, the jerk, and anything else that brings back the hopping, bopping moves of the Sha Na Na period.
Once Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams and becomes the ruler's number two man, his brothers (still back at home and now in the midst of Joseph's predicted famine, swatting flies for a dinner's meat) sing one of the evening's best staged numbers, a French ballad called "Those Canaan Days," with Brother Simon (Jay Thulien) in red beret leading forth in a heavy French-accented solo. The inventive, tongue-in-cheek directorial and choreography geniuses of Stephanie Renee Maysonave and Christina Lazo, respectively, come to full bear in a reenacted scene of the Last Supper where plates, cups, forks and napkins becomes instruments for the brothers to put on a dazzling show of coordinated sitting/standing movement and dance.
What tour of iconic, musical genres would be complete without the King himself. As a sparkly caped Pharaoh, Manuel Caneri joins the throngs of other Elvis impersonators before him, thrusting his pelvis; shaking his bell-bottomed, Egyptian leggings; and declaring to the fainting, screaming common folk around him "It's good to be the king" in a stage-romping "Song of the King."
Brother Judah gets his turn to swivel his hips in a more Caribbean manner as Montel Nord brings the accents of the islands to clip off in true calypso flair, "Benjamin Calypso," a number of cat-and-mouse chasing as the brothers try to save their younger brother Benjamin from a scheming Joseph out to teach them all a lesson.
Alicia Jeffrey leads a Broadway-sounding orchestra of fifteen as the tour of musical styles proceeds. Their big sound explodes particularly in the "Joseph Megamix." The full company returns after the beautifully harmonized, show-ending reprise of "Any Dream Will Do" to perform yet again tidbits the evening's numbers as they take their bows. In the past, this add-on has bothered me and clearly seemed as just a filler in order to find a few more minutes to make the desired ninety. However, in Broadway by the Bay's production, the Las Vegas-style extravaganza of "Megamix"complete with the entire cast in new gold and white outfits of shine and sheenbecomes a fitting and welcome ending to a rousing, good-time evening.
The one issue that periodically plagued the opening nightand not the first time I have seen this issue at the Fox Theatrewas that a number of times the lyrics of Tim Rice were not totally comprehensible. (I overheard, for example, people exiting explaining to each other the parts of the story one or the other could not understand.) Sometimes it seemed to be a sound-mix issue with the orchestra; other times, the fast-clipped words were perhaps too much for those singing to be able to do so clearly. For a musical whose storyeven one familiar to mostis told only in song, this is an issue that hopefully is quickly solved as the run continues.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, through March 31, 2019, at Broadway by the Bay, Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City CA. Tickets are available at broadwaybythebay.org.