By Paris Popack
Yosef knows who you are! Granted, it’s unlikely that many details of your childhood exactly resemble those of Yosef and his brothers, but this extraordinary musical pumps oxygenating fresh air into the story of Yosef you thought you knew.
Last weekend, I had the delight and pleasure of seeing Yosef, The Musical at the Lawrence Theater in Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst. It was so captivating I just had to see it again. Three times, to be exact! What an amazing experience!
This original work is the brainchild of writer, composer, and lyricist Zvika Bornstein, who wanted to produce a musical based on the timeless biblical story of Yosef and his brothers. This all-male production is geared towards the Jewish community and is based on Torah and commentaries.
International Jewish music superstar Gad Elbaz joined Bornstein in creating the energy-packed musical score, and Dr. Stuart Rappaport, who also brilliantly plays the role of Yaakov, collaborated with Mr. Bornstein in writing the book and lyrics. There is much to admire in this musical, from its character development to the colorful dance numbers, eye-popping choreography, slapstick humor, and the unforgettable emotional climax.
Director Bornstein takes you on a journey that brings the characters to life as the story vividly unfolds. Every facet of the blocking, staging, and comic timing is perfect. Although the set design is sparse and minimalist, the animated projection adds dimension. The audience finds themselves immersed in the show as the actors move from the stage to the aisles. Every aspect of the production is engaging, and although this is a well-known story, it is told in a fresh new way. The director chose to highlight various relationships and conflicts that one doesn’t usually think about, which adds great depth to the story. Behind the strong message of unity and the power of forgiveness is also a pragmatic allegory about the perils of intolerance, and the lessons derived from that.
The musical dream team consists of three musical giants–Gad Elbaz, Zvika Bornstein, and Yaakov Spadaro. Elbaz is the mastermind behind Yosef’s fresh new sound and some beautiful musical compositions that encompass an array of upbeat contemporary tunes and heartfelt ballads. The whimsical and witty lyrics were primarily penned by Zvika Bornstein, as were three of the musical compositions. And finally, Yaakov Spadaro’s command as musical director and conductor in this iconic show brings the compositions and lyrics to life through his masterful vocal arrangements and harmonies for both the ensemble and the Atid Boys Choir.
With a cast of 25 professional actors, singers, and dancers, and the inspirational Atid Boys Choir, this cast is, without a doubt, Broadway caliber. Although each performer lights up the stage with song, emotion, and spectacular choreography, there are some standout performers who are deserving of high accolades.
Luke Yellin, as Yosef, has the electric presence of the leading man. Yellin gives Yosef his charming disposition and goes back and forth between the vulnerable younger Yosef and the confident, self-assured, and seemingly ruthless leader who arrests his brothers. It is a truly amazing portrayal of Yosef and matched only by his vocals. I was mesmerized by Yellin’s soaring sweet voice and was thoroughly moved when he sang his two ballads, “Cast Away” and “Give Me Strength.” Yellin gives Yosef great authenticity and is gripping to watch.
Dr. Stuart Rappaport’s genuine portrayal of Yaakov is larger than life. He is truly an exceptional performer; he gives the role of Yaakov great emotional depth, as he tries to make the right choices despite suffering tremendous loss. Rappaport portrays Yaakov as a strong but gentle leader who recognizes the calling of Yosef, but knows that the future of the House of Israel is dependent on being united as a family. When he sings “Part of Me” there is not a dry eye in the house. Rappaport cannot be given enough high praise for his realism and intensity through his multi-faceted portrayal of Yaakov.
An appetite for punny humor will increase your enjoyment of Yosef, which puts a greater emphasis on broad comedy, similar to Disney’s stage musicals. Bornstein often seems determined to keep us in a state of happily dazed distraction from the familiar central storyline, in order to create a balance between the drama and the comedy. There are quite a few comical characters in Yosef who give the show some great comedic moments. Among those worthy of mention are E Tally II as Pharaoh; Sruli Greenberger as Potifar, Man of Schem, and Noy; Christopher Michaels as the Baker, Abu, Bor, and Canaanite Man; and Christopher McIntyre as the Butler. They are all colorful, amusing, and fun, and they captivate both children and adults alike.
The actors who take the stage in this production work together as a well-run and refined company in presenting this outstanding production of Yosef. It was truly a joy to watch them bring this timeless story to life. All proceeds from the show go to benefit the children and families of Torah L’Kulanu, a Jewish organization located in the Five Towns that provides inclusion, support, and advocacy services in social, religious, and educational areas to individuals and families with special needs.
Check out future dates at yosefthemusical.com.