Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Laurence Connor
Perhaps one of the most recognisable shows in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s extensive back catalogue, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat bursts onto the Milton Keynes stage as part of its UK Tour. With over 200,000 performances worldwide since its original conception in London’s West End in 1973, this show certainly is a quintessential piece of British musical theatre.
The show itself is an amalgamation of theatrical glitz and simple Biblical storytelling. It follows the story of Joseph, the favoured son of Jacob. Envied by his brothers, he is sold into slavery to a rich Egyptian nobleman. Eventually, he manages to escape slavery and ends up working for the Egyptian Pharoah and earning a position in his government.
Lloyd Webber’s shows are known for their incredible production values and this one is no exception. However, while the source material from the Book of Genesis is quite dark, Lloyd Webber’s score, coupled with Tim Rice’s lyrics, puts an irreverently candyfloss spin on the tale.
Of course, Joseph was never intended to be a gritty, hard-hitting drama, and it should be noted that it was originally written as a primary school piece back in 1968. Indeed, the placement of the numerous child actors, talented though they are, has a distinctive school assembly feel. Laurence Connor has absolutely recognised this and played into it for the modern adaptation, and it works, taking the biggest flaw of past productions and turning it into the main selling point of this show. His tight direction, coupled with a psychedelic lighting score by Ben Cracknell and of course a stellar ensemble cast makes for a highly entertaining, not to mention punchy new adaptation. Adding the children in as featured actors such as in the Potiphar sequence, rather than rolling them out merely to be a chorus is a stroke of genius. It not only highlights their incredible talent but also increases the comedic value of the piece.
With Alexandra Burke in the role of Narrator, audiences can rest assured that this is a high-quality piece of theatre. Her voice is undoubtedly flawless, and she attacks the score like a lioness, ensuring a powerful and graceful vocal delivery. Her incredible voice is but one element of what makes her the lynchpin of the show. She moves like water, elegant and airy, elevating Joann M Hunter’s choreography throughout each scene. To call her a scene stealer would be something of an injustice: this woman is a show-maker. Her coolness has injected a heavy dose of youthful exuberance in what can be a very twee piece of theatre, particularly when set against the landscape of contemporary musical shows.
Having found fame on X Factor and going on to be a Strictly Come Dancing finalist, it has always been clear that Burke is a triple threat, but what this show really highlights is her comedic talent. Playing with the school performance motif, she orchestrates the children and often joins in with their dancing like an excitable drama teacher. Her chemistry bubbles vigorously with every single cast member on stage and she is mesmerising to watch. Multi-parting as both Jacob and Potiphar’s wife, she is commanding and executes with precision a slapstick sequence involving a tiger rug.
Taking on the titular role of Joseph, a role famously played in the past by both Donny Osmond and Jason Donovan, is recent graduate Jak Yarrow. Yarrow is dynamic and powerful in this role which was his West End debut. He has a strong vocal range and solid on-stage chemistry with Burke which is a pleasure to behold. He is every inch the charismatic popstar and delivers a stunningly emotive rendition of Close Every Door. This scene is further enhanced by Morgan Large’s set design as we see Joseph before a hugely imposing tilted jail cell, with the child chorus looking on like ghostly figures through the slats. As Yarrow leads us through the crescendo of the song, this spooky staging becomes all the more effective, placing the children in a position of privilege and power whilst Joseph is at his weakest moment. This sequence is spine-tingling and leaves the audience in rapturous applause.
With its eclectic approach to the musical score and the combination of old-fashioned theatre glamour with high-octane physical movement, this show has something for everybody. This is a revival done right: full of nods to the original format but with a strong contemporary feel.
As a family night out, this show is a surefire win with two hours of pure unadulterated escapism. Go go go (and see) Joseph before he dances out of town.
Runs Until 24 September 2022 and on tour