REVIEW: ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ paints a tapestry through dreams and dance
Joseph the Dreamer is an imaginative immersion into the journey of a fascinating character, replete with both substance and spectacle, from the strong emotional beats to the moving music and creative choreography. The timeless tale is given new life by a production that deftly balances modernization with the presentation of familiar themes and characters.
Joseph the Dreamer follows the adventures of the titular character, a young Hebrew man and one of the twelve sons of Jacob who is blessed with the ability to interpret dreams. When his jealous brothers betray him, he becomes a slave in Egypt. His troubles do not end there as another betrayal lands him in prison. But through all his trials, his faith in his God never wavers and through his interpretation of dreams, Joseph soon becomes the favorite of the Pharaoh himself. After two decades of struggle, he eventually reconciles with his brothers and reunites with his aged father, healing the wounds that had torn the family apart.
This production’s strength is in substantive storytelling. Director Paolo Valenciano and associate director Nelsito Gomez weave a colorful and elaborate tapestry of a tale, spanning decades, generations, and cultures.
Music, Movement, Magic
As a well-known Biblical story, Joseph could have suffered from the audience’s familiarity with the source material so it was paramount for the company to find a fresh take on the story and this production has largely succeeded in this endeavour. The show has all the hallmarks of memorable musical theater from catchy musical numbers, inventive choreography and production design, distinctive characters, and a gripping story.
The dream sequences are particularly impressive and immersive, a feast for the eyes and ears from the lighting design of Dong Calingacion and the sounds by Rards Corpus. They made effective use of the neon lights against the darkness, particularly during the dream highlighting Joseph’s colorful coat. The show also highlighted the contrast between dreams and nightmares, the latter being portrayed not just in darkness but with clever use of sounds of anguish and tableaux of characters reenacting painful memories.
Mio Infante’s production design also highlights the changes in setting, with almost a bare stage for the scenes in Canaan, allowing the audience to focus on the family drama unfolding, to the grandeur and ostentation of Egypt, particularly the palace of the Pharaoh.
Costumes and makeup (by Myrene Santos) truly distinguish the characters, showing the stark contrast between the simple and earthy tones of the Hebrews and the bright, colorful, and almost gaudy tones of the more prosperous Egyptians. The costumes of the prisoners white strips of cloth tied around them to represent the chains that bind them, symbolic without being too traumatic to look at, especially for the younger members of the audience.
The songs from the original cantata have been revitalized for a new generation, expertly showing, as the lyrics from one song go, the “fresh flow of the spirit” as Myke Salomon integrates modern genres like R&B, gospel, rock, pop, some Middle Eastern influence, and a bit of everything else. The melodies might be modernized but never to the point of losing their messages and for the most part, the lyrics ring loud and clear.
MJ Arda’s choreography is another highlight of this production as the different dances keep the show festive and fun while certain, more elaborate numbers (such as Joseph’s solo interpretation of “He Opens a Window”) portray the character’s deep struggles and emotions. The dances showcase the cast’s strengths, particularly those of Sam Concepcion and, as expected, Gary Valenciano. The opening song and finale numbers are elaborate and energetic–jubilant bookends to a journey with its fair share of darkness and tragedy.
Hubris to Humility
Joseph the Dreamer is blessed with a stellar cast of talented and versatile performers, all of whom contribute greatly to the show’s success. From the individual characters to the ensemble, the cast sing, dance, and act their way through two decades worth of story with never a dull moment in the show.
Sam Concepcion’s Joseph makes the dreamer his own, drawing the audience into his colorful world from his first appearance on stage. He starts out as both charming and cocky, clearly establishing why his father is so fond of him and why his brothers are furious. Concepcion proves to be a consummate performer as the role lets him showcase not just his singing and acting chops but also his dancing prowess as he effortlessly executes the elaborate choreography and is able to hold his own against Gary Valenciano as Jacob.
Concepcion portrays a character impressive in his imperfection, relatable because he is flawed and not some paragon of virtue and talent. Joseph’s journey from hubris to humility is succinctly captured in the transition from Concepcion’s anguished assertion that he is “special” to his resigned admission that he’s “nothing special” after years of hoping. Suffering through a series of betrayals designed to test his faith, Concepcion effectively portrays his character’s vulnerability and eventual maturity, a maturity that allows him to finally forgive his brothers for what they have done.
Joseph and his brothers’ conflict is sparked mostly by their father’s unequal treatment. Playing Jacob, the patriarch of the family, Gary Valenciano is an effectively authoritative figure, inspiring both fear and obedience even in the oldest and most stubborn of his sons. His strong faith shines through in his earnestness and even when his sons roll their eyes at his preaching, he shows great conviction. Other than the impressive dancing, Valenciano also adds some eccentricities to the character such as how easily he gets worked up (and how only Joseph is able to calm him down, an interesting way of illustrating their closeness).
With so many supporting characters, it is a challenge to give each one enough time to shine and the show deftly avoids forcing the audience to get to know all of the brothers but instead, distinguishes a few who play pivotal roles in Joseph’s journey. While all of the brothers bear a grudge against Joseph for being their father’s favorite, there is a clear schism between those who are eager and willing to do him harm and those who are hesitant about hurting one of their own blood. This division between the brothers adds an interesting layer to the story and shows how family feuds are not always as clear-cut as they seem.
Simeon (played by Matthew Barbers) is the most jealous and most vicious of the brothers, and the one who instigates the betrayal. More than a villain, Simeon is a deeply flawed human being, driven to unspeakable acts by years of his father’s neglect and criticism. His torment of Joseph is painful to watch but his sincere remorse for this heinous act makes Simeon’s eventual redemption truly moving.
Reuben (played by RJ Dela Fuente) is the eldest son and the one most fiercely opposed to hurting Joseph. But he proves unable to dissuade his brothers from their betrayal and is forced to be complicit in their crimes, out of some misguided concern for their father’s wellbeing.
Judah (played by Neo Rivera) has a smaller but distinctive role as a brother who seems concerned only with his own pleasures at the start but who eventually is willing to sacrifice himself for his younger brother.
Benjamin (played by Eggo Velasco and Mateo Jimenez) is the pure and innocent youngest son, unburdened by the crimes of his older brothers and determined only to help his family. He brings a refreshing, youthful energy to his scenes, particularly since he shows up towards the end of the story when even Joseph has become older and wiser.
This directors’ decision to draw clear lines between the roles of the brothers and to emphasize their shocking betrayal of Joseph elevates the story from a simple family drama as it shows greater complexity in the brothers’ motives as well as some level of culpability on the sides of both Joseph and Jacob. The latter’s eventual admission to his own faulty fatherhood becomes more significant in the light of the generational trauma he has caused and the eventual reunion and reconciliation of the family is all the more meaningful because of all the pain they had had to endure.
Ladies and Laughter
Major female characters are thin on the ground in Joseph the Dreamer the gender balance difficult to address when there are already a dozen brothers to deal with, but the few, named female characters make the most of what they are given.
Kayla Rivera opens the piece as the narrator and then plays the smaller role of Princess Asenath, Joseph’s wife. Rivera is an engaging storyteller whether she is reciting the tale or singing some of the more emotional songs of the piece, complementing the main character’s struggles. Her presence seems to support and encourage Joseph long before she appears to him as a distinct character.
Bituin Escalante plays a small but pivotal role as Rachel, Joseph’s mother and Jacob’s beloved wife. Although she only appears in flashbacks or dreams, her lines about looking for her son in “every single ravine she could find” becoming a recurring gag, she brings heart to the story and her powerful rendition of “He Opens a Window”, complemented by Sam’s breathtaking dance, truly brings home the show’s themes of religious faith and hope.
Alys Serdenia as Potiphar’s wife also steals the scene, but in a different way. Serdenia’s diva-like turn as the seductress who gets Joseph thrown into prison demonstrates her impressive dance skills and flexibility while balancing both charisma and comic relief. She is, however, burdened with singing a particularly difficult song, with elaborate lyrics sung at breakneck speed, and for most of the performance, this writer could not understand what she was singing. Fortunately, this is a relatively minor complaint and there is enough context in the number to make one understand what is going on.
Another scene stealer and great source of comic relief is Carlo Orosa’s unforgettable turn as the Pharaoh plagued with incomprehensible dreams. He proves to be a bigger diva than Mrs. Potiphar could ever be with his ostentatious costume, his flamboyant manners, and his elaborate singing. His distinctive delivery of the detailed descriptions of the cows and ears of corn from his dreams is a wonder, and his dynamic with his three incompetent magi (played by Jim Ferrer, Aldo Vencilao, and Carlos Canlas) creates some of the most hilarious scenes on the show. But for all the flair, Orosa still adds an air of authority to the character and his performance never becomes a complete caricature. There is still no doubt that this man has the power of life and death in one of the most prosperous nations in the world.
Joseph the Dreamer has a happy ending: the family is reunited and reconciled, everyone is saved from starvation during the famine, and their faith is restored. But what makes this conclusion so satisfying is that the characters all had to undergo a journey full of pain and suffering, as one of the songs goes, “darkness turns to light, love’s transformation.” The more explicit exploration of generational trauma in an age-old story has given it a greater weight and the cast more nuances to portray.
Joseph the Dreamer is a triumph of storytelling and spectacle, taking the audience from flights of fantasy to a deeper understanding of faith and family.
Tickets: Php 1,751.00 - Php 2,884.00 Show Dates: July 22 ‘22, July 23 ‘22, July 24 ‘22, July 29 ‘22, July 30 ‘22, July 31 ‘22, August 5 ‘22, August 6 ‘22, August 7 ‘22, August 19 ‘22, August 20 ‘22 Venue: Globe Auditorium, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC Arts Center, 26th St. cor. 9th Ave., Bonifacio Global City Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 10 minutes (includes a 15 minute intermission) Credits: Paolo Valenciano (Director), Nelsito Gomez (Associate Director), Myke Salomon (Musical Director), Mio Infante (Production Designer), MJ Arda (Choreographer), Rards Corpus (Sound Designer), Dong Calingacion (Lighting Designer), Myrene Santos (Hair and Makeup Creator) Cast: Sam Concepcion, Neo Rivera, Gary Valenciano, Audie Gemora, Kayla Rivera, Bituin Escalante, Carla Guevara Laforteza, Carlo Orosa, Aldo Vencilao, Alys Serdenia, Eggo Velasco, Mateo Jimenez, Matthew Barbers, RJ Dela Fuente, Elai Estrella, Eli Luis, Edrei Tan, Renz Bernardo, Paul Valdez, Carlos Canlas, Jim Ferrer, Dan Delgado, Diego Aranda, Anton Posadas, Justine Narciso, Samantha Libao, Kiara Dario, Coleen Paz, Kathleen Francisco, Jom Logdat. Company: Trumpets