Southfield native Joe Joseph strikes it up in Detroit with 'The Band's Visit'

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

It wasn't until high school that Southfield native Joe Joseph opened his mouth and discovered something even his parents didn't know: He could sing.

"I had no idea," said his dad, Ray Dimuzio.

Joseph, 32, has come a long way since that discovery. Now, he's starring in the hit Tony Award-winning musical, "The Band's Visit." He'll have dozens of family members in the audience during a two-week run that starts Tuesday at the Fisher Theatre. It runs through May 1.

"It's very surreal," said Joseph, chatting by phone during a tour stop in late March in Costa Mesa, California. "My uncle has got a group of like 40-50 people (coming). It's going to be the entire Joseph clan there."

Actor Joe Joseph, right, portrays Haled in "The Band's Visit" which arrives next week at Detroit's Fisher Theatre.

Next week's performances will mark the University of Detroit High School and University of Michigan graduate's first time performing in Detroit in front of his family, though dad Ray and other family members have seen him in New York and elsewhere.

The musical, the winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, tells the story of a band that gets lost in a small town in the middle of the desert on the way to a gig. Joseph, who plays the character Haled, joined the show on Broadway in 2019 and then joined the touring production.

Though he grew up in a family that loved music, Joseph had no formal theater or music training before college. Before trying out for that first play in 10th grade, Joseph, who has Syrian, Lebanese, Hungarian and Italian roots, said he'd never opened his mouth to sing anything in front of "another human being."

It was actually his sister, then a student at all-girls Mercy High School, who encouraged him to try out. If anything, he'd get the chance to meet girls and "it'll be fun," he recalls.

"Coming from an all-boys Catholic school, it was a very different opportunity and environment," he recalls. But "none of it was anything I'd been groomed for."

Still, formal training or not, his family always loved music. Joseph says he grew up with musicals. His mother, Andrea, a traveling nurse, was a very musical person.

"I think that element just helped me kind of transition to that world," he said. 

At the University of Michigan, Joseph studied theater among other pursuits and was part of an a capella group. He continued to perform in numerous productions.

Dimuzio, his dad, describes his son as laid back but also really committed and intense when he's passionate about something. He remembers seeing him in a production of "Hair" where the actors had to perform nude, though the nudity was optional.

"Of course he was one of them," laughs Dimuzio.

David Cassleman has been friends with Joseph through both high school and college, where they were roommates for four years. He calls him a "tireless worker."

"While many of us were going to football games and focusing on our social life in college, Joe was at rehearsal, singing, writing or doing something else productive," said Cassleman in an email. "He's a wonder — and so talented and heartfelt."

After college, Dimuzio worked at a theater nonprofit in Connecticut. But he realized if he really wanted to make it as an actor, he'd really need to immerse himself in it. He moved back to Detroit, working at Greenfield Village and the Ringwald Theater. And then he moved to New York in 2013.

"I never really looked back," he said. "...For me, any way to be creative and to be compensated with value for that is all I ever wanted."

As his career has taken off, one trinket accompanies Joseph from dressing room to dressing room no matter the show: a framed photo of his mom. She died in 2010.

"She affected a lot of people's lives and had a big influence on mine obviously," he said. "She was a voracious music lover like all of the Joseph family and that understanding of music trickled down to me...She's always with me."

Southfield native Joe Joseph, left, performs with Sasson Gabay and Janet Dacal in "The Band's Visit."

In "The Band's Visit," Joseph said it's a story about the connection someone can make with a total stranger. He portrays Haled, a younger trumpet player with the band. A bit of a troublemaker looking to have fun, Joseph had to learn to play the trumpet for the role. 

Joseph said a band plays backstage during each night's show but members of the company also play instruments during the course of the performance.

"The score is different every night. There are improvised elements," said Joseph.

Joseph will wrap up his portrayal of Haled later this spring and then this fall he'll be part of a big name play on Broadway in New York, though he couldn't disclose the name. But "The Band's Visit" has changed his life, he said.

"It feels like it was a big chapter at the end of my 20s that totally changed my career prospects, my financial standing and gave me an incredible opportunity to meet and work with some of the most talented people I've ever had the chance to work with, which is what I've always wanted," he said. "It just feels like it's been such an incredible part of my life. I'll miss it deeply."

'The Band's Visit'

April 19-May 1 at the Fisher Theatre.

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