REVIEW: North Carolina Theatre: Ray Walker Outshines Sheena Easton in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
by Robert W. McDowell
Broadway veteran and North Carolina Theatre regular Ray Walker, who recently relocated to Raleigh, NC, outshined pop star and two-time Grammy Award winner Sheena Easton during the Sunday matinee performance of NCT’s energetic, extra-long version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Certainly, the theatrical deck was stacked Easton, who was in fine form and terrific voice as the Narrator, who retells the story of Joseph the sometimes self-absorbed and insensitive dreamer and interpreter of dreams, his increasingly resentful brothers, and the fabulous coat of many colors that identified Joseph as the favorite of their father Jacob (Vinny Genna).
Sunday, Ray Walker’s charismatic, rock-star-like performance as Joseph overshadowed Sheena Easton’s passionate portrayal of the schoolmarmish Narrator. It is true Joseph gives Joseph more to do, but NCT director Casey Hushion does her best to build up Easton’s role and increase her interaction with the 60 children to whom she is teaching the familiar story from the Book of Genesis.
Merwin Foard also proves to be a real scene-stealer as a scarf- and sunglasses-wearing, white-jumpsuited Elvis Presley-like Pharaoh. In this NCT production, Pharaoh/Elvis comes down from the stage -- Elvis style -- to flirt with female audience members in the front row and tease their men like the King of Rock and Roll did during his Las Vegas years.
Vinny Genna and Brenda Hamilton add crisp comic characterizations as the wealthy Potiphar and his man-crazy wife. She relentlessly pursues their slave Joseph until Potiphar catches the pair in a compromising position and has Joseph thrown into the prison, where his interpretation of a fellow inmates dream brings him to Pharaoh’s attention -- just in time to save Egypt from seven years of famine and catapult Joseph into a position of power in Pharaoh’s inner circle.
More a musical revue than a typical rock opera, Joseph shifts musical styles from number to number, giving David F.M. Vaughn as Reuben a chance to warble “One More Angel in Heaven,” country-and-western style; Darryl Winslow as Simeon the opportunity to don a beret in a French café and lament “Those Canaan Days”; and Demond Green as Judah the occasion to strut through the “Benjamin Calypso.”
NCT’s robust rendition of Joseph, with its magnificent sets and costumes leased from the Music Theatre of Wichita, draws much of its energy from the imaginative staging of director Casey Hushion, the exuberant production numbers of choreographer Mark Evans, and red-hot licks of musical director McCrae Hardy and a high-octane NCT orchestra that features the pyrotechnics of guitarist Baron Tymas.
The praiseworthy contributions of lighting designer John Bartenstein, costume designer Annie Bruskiewitz, wig designer Patti DelSordo, prop master Bob Uzabel, and sound designer Jonathan Parke also help [make] Joseph another spectacular home-grown musical from the North Carolina Theatre. Sunday afternoon, this expanded version of the first collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice earned a raucous and extended standing ovation, even after the extended (and some might say superfluous) “Joseph Megamix,” which gave the show’s principal performers a chance to strut their stuff once again at the final curtain and lengthened the show’s running time to approximately an hour and 50 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Tuesday-Friday, July 12-15, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 16, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 17, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$65. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Really Useful Group: http://www.reallyuseful.com/rug/shows/joseph/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=4942. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0175790/. Sheena Easton: http://www.sheenaeaston.com/.
PREVIEW: North Carolina Theatre: Pop Singer Sheena Easton Will Star in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
by Robert W. McDowell
Two-time Grammy Award winner Sheena Easton, 46, will headline the North Carolina Theatre’s gala presentation of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice’s fabulous first collaboration, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1972), July 8-10 and 12-17 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts. NCT regular Ray Walker will repeat the title role, which he first played for NCT in 1998. (Walker also served as Donny Osmond’s understudy for the role of Joseph in the North American tour of Joseph.)
New York director/choreographer Casey Hushion, who previously directed The King and I, starring movie and TV star Lou Diamond Phillips, and Jekyll & Hyde, starring former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, for the North Carolina Theatre, will direct Joseph; and Mark Evans will choreograph this bodacious biblical musical, which started out on March 1, 1968 as a 20-minute pop cantata written for a school assembly in Hammersmith, England. A greatly revamped and expanded version of Joseph opened in London’s West End on Oct. 16, 1972 at the Young Vic Theatre and later transferred to the Albery Theatre.
The show made its Broadway debut on Jan. 27, 1982 at the Royale Theatre, where it ran for 747 performances. Joseph received seven 1982 Tony Award® nominations, including nominations for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score. In 1999, the West End and Broadway hit became a television movie starring Donny Osmond as Joseph.
In assessing the upcoming NCT production, guest director Casey Hushion enthusiastically declares, “Sheena Easton is not only one of the brightest stars to shine down here in North Carolina, but also one of the coolest women I have had the privilege to work with in quite some time. Her commitment to the show is bar none, and I am impressed every single day by her passion and integrity not to mention that fact that she can crack you up at any moment.
Hushion adds, “I don’t think you would find a Joseph anywhere who sings like Ray Walker can. He is also the artistic director of NCT Conservatory, so he is part of the NCT family and we are so lucky to have him with us.
Born April 27, 1959, in Belshill, Scotland, but now a Naturalized U.S. citizen living and performing in Las Vegas, Sheena Shirley Orr Easton scored a mega-hit in 1981, at age 21, with “Morning Train (9 to 5),” which reached Number 1 on the Billboard Pop Charts. Her subsequent hits include the title tune for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only and “We’ve Got Tonight,” a duet with Kenny Rogers, which climbed to Number 1 on the Billboard Country Charts.
In 1991, Sheena Easton told The Orange County Register: “I have never claimed to be Miss Hip, and I never tried to appeal to an avant-garde audience with a green streak in my hair, a bag over my head and songs about living couches. Some entertainers lose their way because they’re always trying to make a statement with their music or trying to be cool enough to be in with the Rolling Stones crowd. Well, that was never me. So sue me; I’m a pop singer. People bounce along in their cars to my songs and that’s good enough for me.”
Easton won two Grammy Awards: Best New Artist in 1981 and Best Mexican-American Performance in 1984 for her duet with Luis Miguel on “Me Gustas Tal Como Eres.” She made her Broadway debut in the 1992 revival of Man of La Mancha, playing Aldonza/Dulcinea opposite Raul Julia as Cervantes/Don Quixote; and she later starred as Betty Rizzo in the 1998 revival of Grease. Easton’s resume also includes numerous performances on television (she played Don Johnson’s wife on “Miami Vice”) and in motion pictures.
During a June 28th press conference at the BTI Center, Sheena Easton said she was delighted to play the Narrator in the North Carolina Theatre production of Joseph. “It’s great to be a part of such a talented group of people,” she said. The award-winning pop singer/actress added, “It’s nice to do something fresh. A lot of my job is repetition. Some of my hits date from the early 1980s, and I’ve done them over and over again [in concerts].”
Easton adds, “The Narrator tells the story of Joseph, his brothers, and the coat of many colors to 60 schoolchildren. It’s all about finding your dreams and going after your dreams. As she tells the story, it magically happens behind us.”
NCT’s vivacious version of Joseph will feature spectacular sets and costumes leased from the Music Theatre of Wichita. In addition to director Casey Hushion and choreographer Mark Evans, the show’s production team will include NCT’s resident musical director extraordinaire McCrae Hardy, technical director Brent Jahnke, lighting designer John Bartenstein, costume designer Annie Bruskiewitz, wig designer Patti DelSordo, prop master Bob Uzabel, and sound designer Jonathan Parke.
Director Casey Hushion says, “I love the message of the show. In essence, it is a celebration of the power of dreams. [Joseph] reminds us to stick to your dreams, even in the face of adversity, and they will see you through.
“On top of having such a great sentiment behind it, the show that really allows you to create your own version of how the story is told which is always enticing to a director,” Hushion says. “Musically, it is a delightful pastiche you get the broadest range of styles possible in one show. From pop to vaudeville to country [and] western, complete with a dance remix at the end! I also like the inclusion of a children’s chorus it helps bring a real sense of magic and wonder to the storytelling when you watch it through the eyes of a child. Plus, it is full of wit and humor. Wow, I am gushing here.… I guess I really do love this one!”
Hushion notes, “The [show’s] set creates a nice playground for the show to fit in to. There are stairs in the stage throughout the show where the children’s chorus sits to watch, as well as many drops and lots of larger pieces that come and go through different locations.”
She adds, “The lighting is closer to rock-and-roll than musical-theater lighting. With this show in particular, the lighting helps set the style and contemporary feel of the show; and we plan to use them to their maximum potential.”
Casey Hushion explains, “The costumes are a mix of modern pieces, as well as show specific looks. There will be robes and beards, but you will also get everything from funky 1960s looks to an Elvis jumpsuit along with that.”
She claims, “The only real challenge [in staging Joseph] is that is it a huge show to put together within a short amount of time. Although it is a shorter show, it is chockfull of production numbers; and if you include the children, the cast size is almost 90! Artistically, the challenge is to find the real heart in the piece, so it feels like something, on top of the gimmicks and the spectacle.”
Sheena Easton and Ray Walker’s co-stars at NCT will include Merwin Foard as an Elvis Presley-like Pharaoh and Vinny Genna as Joseph’s father, Jacob, and the Egyptian court official Potiphar, who has Joseph thrown into prison when he catches him in a compromising position with his oversexed and underdressed wife (Brenda Hamilton).
The principal cast also includes Matthew Addison as Napthali, Clayton Bailey as Benjamin, Demond Green as Judah, John Arthur Greene as Dan, Chris Olsen as Gad, Gordy Owens as Levi, David F.M. Vaughn as Reuben, Ray Walker as Joseph, Brian Wanee as Zebulon, Charlie Williams as Asher, Darryl Winslow as Simeon, and David Wright as Issacar.
Suzanna Dupree and Jenny Gulley serve as members of the chorus and kid wranglers for the 60 schoolchildren who listen as the Narrator retells the familiar Genesis story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Other ensemble members include Bree Branker, Brooke Leigh Engen, Brenda Hamilton, Kinsie Howell, Meredith Jones, Kristen LaBianca, Jennifer Menge, Gina Philistine, Rebecca Sherman, and Kim Shriver.
“There are 60 amazing kids,” claims Sheena Easton. “When you walk through the [rehearsal] room, there’s an energy there that knocks you off your feet.”
Easton has two adopted children: Jake, 10, and Skylar, 9. When asked at a June 28th press conference whether her kids were in the cast, Easton said no and ad-libbed a hilarious couple of minutes of what it would be like if the Narrator had to interrupt her performance to discipline her own kids on stage, muttering under her breath if they did not stop misbehaving jerk a knot in them.
“Kids nowadays are exposed to so much negativity,” says Sheena Easton. “It’s good when you can encourage them to go after their own personal dreams. What the Narrator is doing [with the youthful school or vacation Bible school audience in Joseph] is what I do with my kids every day: try to instill [in them] a sense of fun and joy.”
The North Carolina Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Friday, July 8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 9, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 10, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, July 12-15, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 16, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 17, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$65, except $15 student tickets July 8th. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Really Useful Group: http://www.reallyuseful.com/rug/shows/joseph/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=4942. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0175790/. Sheena Easton: http://www.sheenaeaston.com/.