Some things, you just have to see for yourself.
For months, I’ve been hearing about the great things Tim Rater and Jim Corti are doing at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. There was a huge buzz when the new executive and artistic directors, respectively, took over the grand old theater, hoping to revitalize it. I heard the excitement in the air when they announced their Broadway series – in-house productions of Broadway-quality shows.
And I was blown away by the reception to the first of those shows, My Fair Lady, which ran from Sept. 14 to Oct. 2. The raves came from everywhere – the Sun-Times, the Tribune, Chicago Theater Beat, on and on. And yet, I never got to see it, for a number of reasons, most having to do with my schedule.
I will also admit to a little bit of doubt. Broadway-quality live theater, only 10 minutes from my house? In downtown Aurora? Could this be real?
Well, it can. This weekend, I caught one of the first performances of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Paramount, and I’m so pleased to report that this Broadway series is everything people have been saying it is. And you will not find a better evening’s entertainment in the Fox Valley.
Joseph is one of the first Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musicals – the pair would go on to write Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, and Lloyd Webber would achieve worldwide fame with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve never been Lloyd Webber’s biggest fan, but I’ve always admired the anarchic spirit of this show, which tells the Biblical story of Joseph while nimbly leaping through half a dozen musical styles.
And everything works in this production. The lead actors are remarkable – Brian Bohr as Joseph reminds me of Neil Patrick Harris, and his voice is strong and clear. Lara Filip is tremendous as the narrator, and the 12 actors cast as Joseph’s 11 brothers and his father, Jacob, are all very good. Even though there is very little in the script setting them apart, the brothers all have distinct personalities, the work of the fine actors and director Stacey Flaster.
If you’ve seen the Donny Osmond movie, the first act of the Paramount production will be pretty much as you remember it. The highlight is Bohr’s rendition of “Close Every Door,” the show’s most haunting number. He sings it from behind bars, while the ghostly faces of the choir behind him look on.
But the second act is where the cast is let loose. Vasily Deris as Pharoah is amazing—he plays the part as Elvis Presley, as the script suggests, but as mid-‘70s Elvis, and he’s given free rein to take that role as far as it will go. The high point of the production, for sheer hilarity, is “Those Canaan Days,” a French ballad sung by Jacob and his sons. There is something every few seconds during this brilliantly-staged number to make you gasp with laughter.
By the time the show ends, with a disco-flavored medley of its best songs, you’ll be on your feet. I haven’t even mentioned the set design, and the adorable children’s choir. Every element here adds to the show’s success.
The strangest moment for me was stepping outside the Paramount and realizing that I was still in downtown Aurora. You’d pay twice as much for a show of similar quality in New York, and you’d be a thousand miles from home. This is happening right in our back yards. Cheers to Tim Rater, Jim Corti and everyone at the Paramount for making it a reality.
Some things you just have to see for yourself. I’d highly recommend seeing this one. Joseph runs until Nov. 20. Check out the Paramount website for ticket info.