• Southfield Actor in 'The Band's Visit' will have big support from Detroit audience

    • By Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press

    When Joe Joseph performs Saturday in "The Band's Visit" at Detroit's Fisher Theatre, more than 100 friends and family members will be there to cheer him on. 
    Their love and support will celebrate his achievements as an actor - and will pay tribute to someone who won't be there to see him in the national tour of the award-winning musical: Joe's mother, Andrea, who died in 2010. 

    The Joseph Family Day, as the gathering is being called, includes about So people who will attend the matinee and another 50 who'll be at the evening show. 
    "We're thrilled at the turnout and at the support we're going to be able to provide for Joe because, of course, we're immensely proud of his accomplishments," says his uncle, Rick Joseph, a 2015-16 Michigan Teacher of the Year who works for Birmingham Public Schools. 

    It's a pride reflected in a photo Rick shares of his late sister Andrea. In it, she's holding a "Go Joe!" sign and cheering her son on at an "American Idol"-type competition at the University of Michigan. 

    "We know that she's certainly always with us in spirit and her influence lives on," says Rick Joseph. 

    "The Band's Visit," which runs through May 1 at the Fisher, swept the Tony Awards in 2018 with 10 wins, including best musical, best director, best score and best actor in a musical for Tony Shalhoub, who's best known for playing a quirky crime solver in the TV show "Monk." 

    The story (based on the 2007 movie of the same name) revolves around an Egyptian police band that travels to Israel and becomes stranded for the night in a remote village in the desert. There, the visitors and the locals , most of them lonely and yearning, find common ground in touching, bittersweet ways. 
    Joe Joseph, 32, has been getting good reviews across the country as Haled, a band member who idolizes American jazz vocalist-trumpeter Chet Baker. 
    The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote that Joseph's performance was" warm and touching," while the Nashville Scene praised his "dreamy rendition" of one of the score's tunes, 

    "Haled's Song About Love." 

    Joseph, who grew up in Southfield and graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and the University of Michigan, credits both of his parents with supporting his career path. He describes his father, Raymond Dimuzio, as "an incredible intellect and craftsman" who's now retired from IBM. "I think he's just enjoying being able to sit back and not have to worry about me too much," he says with a laugh. His mom, Andrea Dimuzio, a nurse, loved music and singing. Joseph describes her as "a very passionate, giving hospitable person" and someone with a voracious appetite for all sorts of music. 

    "My mother did shows in high school, so she would tell me all the time how she played King Arthur and sang 'How to Handle a Woman' from 'Camelot' and there are pictures of it, which are utterly hilarious," he remembers.  Andrea, who died from colon cancer, had an impact on her son that he feels to this day. 

    "I think as you grow older, you realize the extent to which your parents have a sort of unbelievable influence on who you are and how you see the world and how you move through it and ... I see in stark relief the extent to which so much of her is a part of who I am and what I do," says Joseph. "I don't think I would have that creative aspect if it wasn't for people like her and people like my Uncle Rick and people in her family. I'm blessed to have been brought into that family and blessed to have her as a mother." 

    Joseph participated in show choir and musicals during his high school years, but didn't feel he was destined to become an actor. At the University of Michigan, he was drawn to theater, but also to arts journalism, radio and creative writing. While there, he was a music critic for the Michigan Daily student newspaper, a DJ at student-run station WCBN­ FM and a two-time recipient of the Hopwood Award, the university's prestigious writing prize. 

    After graduating, Joseph worked at a literary associate at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut, which has a mission of developing new works and voices for the stage. After about half a year there, he realized that he was missing something. "I had this feeling when I would see the performers come: 'I want to be that!,"' he recalls. 

    Joseph moved back home to metro Detroit and did some local theater for a period, then returned to New York City "with a couple suitcases and a thousand bucks." He found work off­Broadway and in regional theater and took some TV and film jobs. He also got noticed in theater circles for playing a key role in 2017's "Baghdaddy," an off-Broadway satirical comedy on the Iraq war. 

    His ultimate goal wasn't reaching Broadway, but rather finding work that would challenge him. "I didn't want to be in an environment where I felt comfortable or I understood what I was doing completely. I always knew as an artist, you have to constantly take a risk and put yourself up on a very scary ledge because otherwise you don't really grow." 

    It was in New York that Joseph decided to take his mother's maiden name as his stage name. Although he says he is proud of his given last name, Dimuzio, which comes from his dad's Italian heritage, it didn't reflect the totality of his combined Lebanese, Syrian, Italian and Hungarian family ties. "It felt like it made sense to simultaneously acknowledge my mother and her impact on my life and career, but also to be able to open myself up to being seen as a fuller picture of who lam." 
    Joseph ran the idea past his dad for approval and also turned to one of his mom's cousins, noted poet and lawyer Lawrence Joseph (who's also a U-M alum). Widely known in the literary world, Lawrence's poems are dotted with Detroit imagery such as the 1967 riot and the 1970 incident when his father was shot and nearly killed during a robbery at the family's grocery store. 

    Because Lawrence Joseph's dad was named Joseph Joseph - and known as Joe Joseph - the younger Joseph sought his cousin's blessing. 

    "I asked him if he would be OK with me adopting what essentially was his father's name . ... He said: 'I think it's great. You know who would love it? My dad would love it. And you know who else would love it? Your mom. So I say do it.'" 

    Joseph's great-grandparents arrived in Detroit from Lebanon and Syria in the early 1910s and ran a family grocery store at John Rand Hendrie streets, which was sold in the 1970s. Rick Joseph says his family always valued its connection to Detroit and to many other places dotting the region, including the Maronite Catholic churches where various Josephs worshipped and the Warren truck plant where his dad was once employed. 

    Joe Joseph says he feels those bonds whenever he is home. "I find myself, when I'm here, kind of moving through it and looking at certain places, physical places . ... So much of that is talked about and touched on in my cousin Larry's work." One of those places is the former General Motors Building, now called Cadillac Place. Joseph's grandmother worked there for 20 years in the huge basement cafeteria for GM employees. Now, right across the street, Joseph goes onstage each night in "The Band's Visit.'' 

    A family connection had a role in predicting Joseph's future with "The Band's Visit.'' When Rick Joseph was in New York in 2017 for a friend's 50th birthday, he went to see the original production of "The Band's Visit" with Joe and Joe's sister, Michelle.  Afterward, they met one of the actors, George Abud. 
    "And George said to Joe, 'You know, you could be in this show one day.' And I think Joe already had it in his head when he saw it himself for the first time," says Rick Joseph. c

    In June, Joe Joseph plans to return to New York to begin rehearsals for "The Kite Runner." Set to run from July to October, the play is based on Khaled Hosseini's 2003 best-selling novel and previously was staged in London's West End theater district. The Joseph family fan club is ready for his next career step. 

    "Joe always has had this unbelievable stage presence. He has this gravitas about him where he becomes the character," says Rick Joseph, who's taking his family to see "The Kite Runner" in September. "Whatever role he's playing, he's one of those actors who really, truly transforms into the character and brings it to life.'' 

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