Chicago Theater Review: JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (Paramount Theatre in Aurora – Chicago Area)

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by Dan Zeff on November 9, 2011

in Theater-Chicago

A DREAMBOAT IN DREAMCOAT

In just two productions, the Paramount Theatre has elevated itself to the top of the class in Chicagoland musical theater, in company with Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace and the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. The Paramount opened with an ecstatically reviewed revival of My Fair Lady in September and is now firming up its reputation with a delectable staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The instant success of the Paramount productions must be credited to artistic director Jim Corti, one of the area’s preeminent musical theater directors and choreographers. His shows are housed in the 80-year-old Paramount Theatre, an impressive building in downtown Aurora. The cavernous interior seats 1,888, making the Paramount easily the largest of the non-Loop playing spaces in Chicagoland. The auditorium is impressive but not overwhelming, the décor a tasteful throwback to the glamorous movie and vaudeville palaces of the 1920s and 1930s. The handsome and spacious interior puts the spectator in the proper mood to enjoy something special on the stage, and Corti¹s operation thus far has not disappointed. Corti must have received a mandate to spend whatever it takes to produce top quality shows, as the first two musicals in the Paramount’s new history show evidence of very deep budgetary pockets.  Every dollar is well spent.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is one of the great audience shows of the past 50 years. It was created in England by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) in 1968 and has been repeatedly revised since. I’ve seen the show numerous times and every production is a bit different. The director and choreographer have the freedom to personalize the staging while remaining faithful to the material’s antic and comic spirit. That’s red meat for Stacey Flaster at the Paramount. Flaster has steadily ascended the ladder of top directors and choreographers locally and regionally, and her glowing creativity in Joseph flows from scene to scene with bouquets of inventive touches.

The show is a whimsical and flippant (but not irreverent) riff on the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers. The story is told almost entirely in song, ranging from country music and doo-wop to French cabaret and calypso. The Egyptian pharaoh is an Elvis Presley clone. A narrator serves as the audience’s guide through the storyline, assisted periodically by a children’s chorus. The entire musical has a “What will they do next?” feeling that keeps the audience surprised and entertained from number to number. But there is a theatrical savvy and professionalism in the Webber-Rice writing that sustains the flow of wit and comedy from the opening scene to the mega mix at the end, maybe the longest and the most exuberant curtain call in modern musical history.

Brian Bohr plays the title character. Bohr is a blond hunk now in his senior year at Northwestern University. He conveys an innocence and charm that puts one in mind of Donny Osmond’s performance in the role in Chicago decades ago. And when the bare-chested Bohr sang the stirring “Close Every Door” at the end of the first act, the girls in the audience squealed with pleasure. Bohr may be a heartthrob in the making.

Lara Filip, with her potent voice and ingratiating stage presence, makes an outstanding narrator. The large supporting cast performs beautifully as an ensemble, enhanced with a few notable stand-alone moments. James Earl Jones III (who has left a trail of terrific musical performances from one end of our area to the other over the past two seasons) sells the calypso number with irresistible gusto. As Levi, Cory Stonebrook leads Joseph’s brothers in the mock country music lament “There’s One More Angel in Heaven.” And George Keating delivers a typically droll performance as both Joseph’s father, Jacob, and the hedonistic Potiphar in Egypt. Whoever coached the children’s chorus deserves highest commendation. Those kids really sing beautifully together.

The performances are all first rate, but it’s the shrewd theatrical mind of Stacey Flaster that makes the evening a triumph. Flaster has assembled a chorus of ten singing, dancing (and sexy) young ladies to execute her swinging and clever choreography. The Apache dance, which features Emily Rogers and involves a life-sized dummy, is a total hoot. The chorus performs throughout the evening with an energy and precision that would reflect honorably on any musical passing through downtown Chicago from Broadway.

The show’s production values are outstanding. The theater obviously possesses the highest quality modern technology, allowing Jesse Klug (lighting) and Ray Nardelli (sound) to accomplish some impressive effects. Melissa Torchia’s costume designs are a riot of color and variety, from mock ancient Egyptian designs to modern cheerleader outfits. Kevin Depinet’s functional set design is dominated by giant geometric arches that look like the base of an ancient pyramid.

A couple of very minor criticisms: The “Those Canaan Days” number runs a bit long and gets a bit too broad in its comedy, but its Apache dance is worth any excesses. Vasily Deris is a little portly to channel Elvis, but he works hard as the pharaoh and the audience ate him up.  Joseph is a can’t-miss family show, but the family members shouldn’t extend below the age of about six. There were some toddlers in the opening-night audience who couldn’t have made anything of the hip, sassy humor of the show, even if their brothers and sisters were performing in the children’s chorus on stage.

The chief criticism of Joseph is the brevity of its run. All four shows in the Paramount schedule run for barely three weeks. Productions at this level of accomplishment deserve to run for months.

photos by Liz Lauren

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Paramount Theatre in Aurora (Chicago Theatre)
scheduled to end on November 20
for tickets, visit http://www.ParamountAurora.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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