Chicago Theatre Review
Any Dream Will Do
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Drury Lane Oakbrook
It appears that Drury Lane Oakbrook has turned into Chicago’s venue of reinvention. Beginning with their recent production of “42nd Street,” and continuing with this current offering, artistic leaders William Osetek and Kyle DeSantis have been encouraging a great deal of brilliant thinking outside of the box. And, even more impressive, the results have been rewarding and fantastic!
Since 1968, when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 15-minute Bible story-based pop cantata first saw light at an English boys’ school, and later expanded and transferred to the West End, it’s been a crowd pleaser. It took Broadway by storm in 1982 and ultimately became a national touring sensation. The expanded version with its megamix finale is now a staple among academic, community and regional theatres. However, Alan Souza has added an even more clever twist to this continually evolving musical. In this talented director’s capable hands, an entirely different, unique and joyfully entertaining new show has emerged. It may be considered more adult than family entertainment, but it’s a winner.
Remembered at Drury Lane for his beautifully imagined 2014 production of “Camelot,” Mr. Souza has tapped into Tim Rice’s lyrics as the inspiration for his version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical. From the depths of a massive, fog-filled Pyramid, the Narrator caresses us with her opening melody, introducing the concept that will mold this production. She sings of dreams and the dreamers who follow them who live all around us. They could even be us.
Then, amidst the roar of a jet engine, we spy Joe, a young traveler with his suitcase in tow. He’s just arrived at the luxurious Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Suddenly, the giant onstage pyramid splits apart, revealing a beautifully appointed hotel room, with a sweeping view of the neon-lit Vegas Strip. Joe checks out the room’s amenities, unpacks and hangs up his clothes and climbs into bed. Then the dreams begin.
The familiar Bible story about Jacob and his twelve sons plays out magically, as dreams do, not in Egypt but within the hotel suite and on the showroom stages of the Luxor Las Vegas. This Equity production is so cleverly staged by Mr. Souza and choreographed by Grady McLeod Bowman that fans of Lloyd Webber’s sweet little musical will find a brand new experience in Oakbrook. With an outstanding cast of triple-threats, many making their bright debut at Drury Lane, this show promises and delivers a strong vocal and dance ensemble which highlights of this production.
Add to this a great sounding pit orchestra, conducted by brilliant musical director and arranger Alan Bukowiecki (“Book of Mormon”), and you have the basis for a wonderfully entertaining evening. But there’s also Kevin Depinet’s stunning, adaptable scenic design, enhanced by Lee Fiskness’ dazzling lighting and Kevan Loney’s gorgeous projections, and you get an eye-popping visual package that rivals anything on Broadway. In addition, New York designer Ryan Park has created an array of breathtaking costumes, most of which are homages to the variety of star-studded celebrities of the Vegas stage. Spectacular wig and hair designs by Claire Moores, assisted by Christina Reszel and Amber Wuttke, complete the look.
Alan Souza has a resplendent star in the leading role of the Narrator. Diminutive Christina Bianco, a veteran of YouTube videos and countless incarnations of New York’s “Forbidden Broadway,” bursts with talent. This little lady has a magnificent instrument of her own; but she’s also capable of impersonating the style of dozens of other celebrity vocalists. This singular talent makes her a prime choice for fulfilling Souza’s Vegas dream, as he guides Ms. Bianco to create hilarious versions of such favorites as Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Cher, Shania Twain, Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler. She also morphs into Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Kristin Chenowith, Idina Menzel, Dolly Parton, Shirley Bassey and many others. The much-anticipated megamix at the end of this two-hour production features Ms. Bianco recreating her best moments, although it would’ve been nice if the rest of the cast could’ve gotten into the act, as well. Webber’s delightful musical numbers, expanded to fill out a two-hour running time (with intermission), are still just as much fun and every bit as infectious.
As Joseph, or Joe as he’s called here, the handsome and talented Evan Alexander Smith returns to the Windy City. He was last seen in the pre-Broadway tour of “Amazing Grace,” but gets star billing in this production. Mr. Smith does an excellent job as the bewildered, jet-lagged tourist who just wants a quiet night’s sleep, but finds himself entrenched in this famed fable taken from his hotel room’s Gideon’s Bible.
Chicago’s own Colte Julian gets to show off his acting and musical talent in three supporting roles. He begins the show as a Mafioso influenced, Godfather-like Jacob, the father of twelve rambunctious boys. A bit later Mr. Julian portrays wealthy Potiphar as a sleazy lounge lizard with a sexy, attractive wife, played by the lovely Lexis Danca. But Colte’s finest characterization is his portrayal of the Pharaoh, a character usually patterned after Elvis Presley. In Souza’s 21st century Las Vegas concept, Mr. Julian dazzles as a bespectacled, sequin-studded Elton John, complete with the artist’s signature piano moves. This actor is, once again, commanding in every conceivable way.
The gifted ensemble for this production features eleven mighty, powerful singer/dancers as the brothers. They include E. Clayton Cornelious, Nick Cosgrove, Paul-Jordan Jansen, Anthony Avino, Nathaniel Braga, Tony Carter, Nathan Fister, Alejandro Fonseca, Kevin Nietzel, James Monroe Stevko and Anthony Sullivan Jr. Talented Jed Feder and Brad Giovanine portray an hilarious Sigrid and Roy-inspired Baker and Butler. The ensemble also features the singing/dancing talents of Julia Klavans, Lindsay Loretta Prerost and, dance captain, Cara Salerno, with swing performers Rachel Hafell and Nich O’Neil.
But it’s this unique concept and its supreme execution that almost steals this production away from the catchy Webber score. Alan Souza’s inventive staging and Grady McLeod Bowman’s flashy Las Vegas show choreography, coupled with electropop and hip hop dance moves and acrobatics, that’s the star of this production. The cast skillfully executes each song and every move with confidence and beauty, making this production as much fun as any musical show you’re likely to encounter. So Go! Go! Go and see this entertaining, highly imaginative revisionist production, filled with toe tapping songs performed by a multi-talented cast who offer a message that’s so relevant today. From a Western-inspired “One More Angel in Heaven,” to Joseph’s melancholy “Close Every Door,” from a beautifully harmonized “Those Canaan Days” to the infectious “Benjamin Calypso,” audiences will leave the theatre reminded that “Any Dream Will Do.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 19-March 25 by Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 630-530-0111, by calling TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or by going to www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.