August 4, 2013

Review: Aiken leads amazing 'Joseph' cast at Ogunquit Playhouse

By STEVE FEENEY

Styles often change, but one particular coat has a record of staying fashionable, even in the warmer months. The outerwear in question here is an important prop in an early work by the legendary team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

THEATER REVIEW

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

WHERE: Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St. (Rt. 1)

DATE REVIEWED: Aug. 4; continues through Aug. 25

TICKETS: $39 to $78

CONTACT: 646-5511;

ogunquitplayhouse.org

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" emerged on the world's stages in the wake of the creative duo's later success with "Jesus Christ Superstar." Expanded and revised along the way, "Joseph" has become a favorite for theater companies and theatergoers at every level.

Over the years, pop idols like David Cassidy and Donny Osmond have signed on to the cast to bring the show home to mass audiences as well as to add another stage appearance to their careers.

Now, the Ogunquit Playhouse has landed former "American Idol" sensation Clay Aiken, who has some Broadway experience, to add star power for its production of the show.

Aiken does fine by his title role, but the show owes its strength equally to a sterling cast that gets to loosen up and fly high in some of the very entertaining set pieces and ensemble numbers. All in all, this "Dreamcoat" fits well without need of major alterations. It's a show that anyone with an ear and an eye for top-quality song and dance will enjoy.

Aiken generally adds a low-key demeanor to his role as the biblical dreamer who believes he is destined for greatness. At Sunday's matinee, his big numbers were delivered in a singing voice with range enough to connect on both those somber moments ("Close Every Door") and the inspiring ones ("Any Dream Will Do"). Even when he was being tough ("Who's the Thief?"), he stayed within his character's gentle strength to get at the show's fundamental message of perseverance and forgiveness.

Broadway powerhouse Keala Settle gained applause for several songs sung in the role of the story's narrator. Easily reaching the back of the hall and perhaps all the way to downtown Ogunquit with her soaring voice, she was a dynamic presence throughout.

Numbers that mixed various genres and eras of music and dance were what will likely be most memorable about this production.

An early "Hoedown" piece was a hoot, with the men playing Joseph's wayward brothers singing and dancing up a strorm. Later, an appearance from the Pharoah (Matthew Ragas) evolved into an Elvis impersonation that had everyone cracking up.

Craig Laurie and Nicholas Ward stood out in hilarious numbers inspired, respectively, by French balladry and Caribbean calypso. These and other numbers were ensemble as well as individual gems for which director and choreographer Jayme McDaniel deserves much credit.

The only negative might be an unnecessary "Megamix" tacked on at the end that briefly reprises most of the show's big numbers as if the next stop was Las Vegas. Notwithstanding this quibble, if you've never seen this show or have only seen community or high school productions in the past, it is well worth it to make a trip down to Ogunquit to see how well the pros do it.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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