Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Bill Kenwright
Reviewer: Clare White
It was the first of musical writing duo Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s creations to be produced back in the 1970s and famously launched the West End stage careers of Jason Donovan, Philip Schofield and Lee Mead. Five decades later, Joseph and his coat of many colours are still shining bright, returning to theatres under the direction of Bill Kenwright.
Taken from the Book of Genesis, the story follows Joseph, an idealistic dreamer who is sold into slavery by his 11 back-stabbing brothers, jealous of his fancy multi-coloured coat, prophecy skills and their father’s blatant favouritism towards him. Poor enslaved Joe is taken to Egypt, where his troubles go from bad to worse.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is the longest touring show in history, which raises the question for its latest incarnation – how do you make a 50-year old musical re-telling of a story several thousand years old feel fresh and new? Part energy-drink fuelled Religious Studies lesson, part saccharine pantomime, Joseph is a surreal and vibrant spectacle which doesn’t take itself too seriously and is regarded with nostalgic affection by its audience.
The production’s golden lining (ahem) is Lloyd Webber’s score, which, together with Rice’s lyrics, has aged well and continues to be joyfully sing-a-long-able. It’s an eclectic melting pot of sounds and styles, from the Parisian-inspired Those Canaan Days and Pharaoh’s Elvis imitation Song of the King to the flamboyant Rumba beats of Benjamin Calypso. The celebrated songwriting duo’s musical take on a biblical story is as uplifting as it is eccentric.
A pyramid-shaped set, framed with staircases at each side remains present throughout, with subtle additions to reflect the changes of location. The set is big and bold, and the lighting really effective, however, some of the props appear a bit on the cheap side. The pace of the show doesn’t let up throughout, as is often the case with a sung-through musical. Its slick and energetic and additional choreography from Gary Lloyd adds a modern edge.
Taking on the lead role is Union J boy bander Jaymi Hensley, who triumphantly steps into the infamous loincloth as Joseph, impressing on all levels with his acting ability, endearing characterisation and fantastic voice. He brings a youthful freshness to the part; his performance of Close Every Dooris particularly moving.
The Narrator is the lynchpin of the production, rarely off stage, guiding the audience through the story and the rôle is handled expertly by Trina Hill while Andrew Geater is thoroughly entertaining as ‘The King’ Pharaoh complete with Elvis hip thrusts. However, at times the sound levels during their solo numbers are a little mismatched resulting in the clarity of the lyrics being lost.
Joseph’s band of bitter brothers are good fun, full of testosterone-fuelled energy in what appears to be choreographed chaos. The cast is joined by the charming Joseph Choir, made up of 40 children from the School of a Theatre Excellence in Birmingham.
Joseph is colourful and uplifting fantasy theatre, still standing the test of time thanks to a fresh and energetic cast and the musical maestro’s memorable score.
Runs Until 13 July 2019 and on tour | Image: Pamela Raith