Come and witness the birth of a theatre goddess: A Joseph…Dreamcoat Review

“I rarely get to see any show twice in a season but – at this early stage – this is one I’d revisit because it is just so much fun to watch.”

A review by J. Peter Bergman

Originally posted on The Berkshire Bright Focus Website.

The opening show at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, New York is a 49 year old through-composed rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on a story in the Book of Genesis about Jacob’s youngest son, Joseph, and his incredible journey into Egypt, his successes there and its odd ending which puts the Jewish nation into slavery (a topic never touched upon in the musical). This production has a star-quality cast and the result of however much work went into it is simply stated as follows: You absolutely must get a ticket today and not miss this fabulous hit show. Period.

It first appeared in 1970 in England as a recording with Roger Daltrey as Joseph and it opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1976 with David James Carroll as Joseph and Cleavon Little as The Narrator and later on Broadway in 1982 with Bill Hutton as Joseph and Laurie Beechman as The Narrator – she was the first woman to perform the role and it has remained a star-making part for women ever since. This show has been such a perennial hit that major stars have played in it ever since and it has been a perennial favorite at professional and non-professional theaters everywhere. You may have seen it before at the Mac-Haydn. What you saw, there or elsewhere, cannot compare to what you will see this time around.

The show is a pastiche piece, using rock, country, western, calypso, French chanson and other styles of music. It is melodic with instantly singable hits such as “Any Dream Will Do” which unfailingly makes me tear-up a bit, “One More Angel in Heaven,” “Go, Go, Go, Joseph,” “Those Canaan Days,” “Benjamin Calypso,” and “Prologue.” The shape of the story has as much to do with Thomas Mann’s novel as it does the Biblical text. The entire show is a hard one to forget and so are the performers at the Mac.

Joseph (Alex Carr) with Jacob (Ryan Owens) and the brothers

First and foremost, for a change, is Joseph as played by Alex Carr. His rich and beautiful voice, his well-acted emotional changes, and his nearly naked body create the perfect image of the young man betrayed by his brothers who falls into the oddest adventure endured by a human being since Alice went to Wonderland. Carr is a very human youngster in this show, capable of great things and still able to be humanly small-minded when handed a palpable revenge on the family members who sold him into slavery. His rendition of “Any Dream Will Do” is practically guaranteed to break your heart.

As his brothers, two stand out – which is difficult to say since they are all wonderful to watch and to hear. Dakota Dutcher as Reuben and Sebastiani Romagnolo as Judah are both excellent. Sam Pickart as the horrible Benjamin is at his best in his redemption scene. All of the others would shine as solos if they weren’t such a gorgeous, vocally blended single organism.

Laura Helm as The Narrator uses a gorgeous soprano voice in conjunction with a beautiful face and a stunning body that moves like a dancer’s body should move, to create a most effective character where no character exists. Each appearance of Helm’s life-force in this show is much anticipated and even more appreciated. She has lovely music to sing, wonderful dance-breaks to show off her torso effectively and a smile that is devastating. In the Laurie Beechman tradition Helm emerges as the star of a show she narrates. Come and witness the birth of a theatre goddess.

Jimm Halliday’s costumes are spectacular and the theater’s setting by Kevin Gleason is their equal. The new sound system seems to be flawless and Andrew Gmoser’s lighting is better than ever. Director Bryan Knowlton has combined all of the elements mentioned with vigor and vim, with an enlightened and renewed framework and with his choreographic talent puts on the postage-stamp-stage a fluid company of twenty players, among them the finest and funniest Pharoah I have seen yet in this show, played with a hunka-hunka-burnin’-love attitude by Ryan Owens.

I rarely get to see any show twice in a season but – at this early stage – this is one I’d revisit because it is just so much fun to watch. I’ve given it my professional-best arms-length observation; now I’d like to sit and cheer and sing along and dance in the aisle. I’d better not. But you can have all that fun and more if you can grab a ticket to this show. It’s a steal at any price.