With Pharoah channeling Elvis and a score that embraces an eclectic mix of music genres, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" was never your Sunday school teacher's version of the Bible story.
But Drury Lane Theatre's bold new production in Oakbrook Terrace takes the normally family-friendly "Joseph" in directions surely never imagined by creators Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Director Alan Souza resets the action to modern-day Las Vegas -- complete with scantily clad showgirls, men dancing in drag and a selfie-obsessed Joseph carrying his cellphone in the waistband of his boxers.
And Elvis? While he may have been a great fit for a Vegas setting, he's been replaced by Elton John.
The action in Drury Lane's risky re-imagining unfolds like the dream of a guy coming off the ultimate Vegas bender. Word of warning: It's not for kids.
Joe (Evan Alexander Smith) settles into his hotel room at the Pyramid-shaped Luxor Hotel in Vegas. He strips down to a T-shirt and boxers and climbs into bed, only to be awakened by the narrator (Christina Bianco). She has a story to tell the dazed young man.
Soon, Joseph's 11 rowdy brothers are piling into the room, along with their father Jacob (Colte Julian), who's dressed like a B-movie gangster. He gives the still-stunned Joseph the elaborate coat, delivered by showgirls who pose with Joe for one of the show's many selfies.
In more faithful versions of the musical, the jealous brothers sell Joseph into slavery, and tell their distraught father that his favorite son is dead. That happens in this production as well. But with Souza's take, Joseph has no ties to any of these men, so there's no sting of betrayal, no hint of sorrow. Even the musical's usually poignant "Close Every Door" -- sung by an imprisoned Joseph far from home -- loses its sense of yearning when the door in question leads to the bathroom. And you can hear the toilet flush.
It's all played for camp, right down to the Act I finale that has Joseph -- who spends most of the first half dressed only in his boxers -- dancing in a feather headdress and high heels.
Thus, Souza sacrifices story for stunts, and human connection for concept.
And what a strange concept it is.
The narrator takes center stage throughout, morphing from one diva to another, including a snake-draped Britney Spears circa 2001. Bianco is a talented impressionist and a powerhouse vocalist when she's allowed to shine naturally. Unfortunately, in adopting the singing styles of larger-than-life stars, Bianco is sometimes hard to understand. That's a serious drawback in a musical where the lyrics tell a vital part of the story.
Smith plays Joseph with a befuddled charm, and the always-game ensemble, embracing one surprising scene after another, is strong throughout.
Grady M. Bowman's energetic choreography is dazzlingly performed, especially by the talented brothers. Ryan Park's costumes -- which cross genres as readily as the music -- drive home the Vegas setting.
At times, Souza's version seems to reflect a disdain for the material, soaking a sweet story in Sin City spectacle. It's fun in parts, but it's definitely not the "Joseph" fans have come to love. So if you're expecting a show akin to the long-running '90s production starring Donny Osmond at the Chicago Theatre or one of the more recent suburban revivals, think again.
Unless you can picture Donny in drag.
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Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylanetheatre.com
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday; through March 25
Running time: About 2 hours with intermission
Parking: Valet service or free adjacent parking garage
Rating: For ages 13 and older