Book and Lyrics: Tim Rice
Music:Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Laurence Connor
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Way, way back many decades ago, not long after Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice began, a musical phenomenon was born in a school hall. More than 50 years later this gateway show to a lifelong love of theatre is back at the London Palladium for an all-too-brief summer revival, introducing a bright new star and, for the parents, heralding the return of Jason Donovan to a musical that helped him to shrug off his soap-star image. It’s time to fall in love with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all over again.
Based on the Old Testament story of jealousy, prophesy and garish outer garments, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat begins in the desert-lands of Canaan where a shepherd family of 12 brothers resent their father Jacob’s blatant favouritism of son Joseph. When he’s given a fabulous new coat his siblings take action, selling Joseph to Egyptian slave traders and pretending he’s dead. But in the land of the Pharaohs, Joseph’s talents catch the attention of King Ramesses who’s suffering from bad dreams.
Everything about Laurence Connor’s new production is designed to inspire a pure childlike joy in young and old alike. Less po-faced than some productions, Connor re-orientates the show to focus on Sheridan Smith’s narrator – a Oberon-like conjuror of dreams, telling this timeless story to a group of children under a canopy of stars. The exhaustingly energetic narrator bounds around the stage inserting herself into the story and popping-up in secondary roles including a false-bearded Jacob and the predatory Mrs Potipher.
This fluidity of role extends to the children who appear as some of the brothers, a slightly miffed goat and, in a hilarious twist, the snooty Potipher. It’s a lovely touch that emphasises the comedy of Rice’s lyrics while bringing an effortless energy and multigenerational appeal to the production, playing on our collective nostalgia and supporting Morgan Large’s colour-saturated design which utilises the thrown-together feel of a primary school play but with West End production values.
Sheets are draped to form tents or undulating sand dunes, while plastic sheep are wheeled on as needed. There are some camels ingeniously created from bicycles and a gorgeously-detailed Egyptian palace with guitar-playing sphinxes and more gold than even Midas could imagine. It’s bold, full-on and bit much but there’s so much clarity in Large’s design using vivid primary colours to convey the intense yellow of the desert and the blood-red skies post-pretend fratricide.
Lloyd Webber’s playfully varied score includes a lot of different styles that Musical Supervisor and Director John Rigby brings to life with the same infectious enthusiasm as the rest of the show. Joann M. Hunter’s choreography for ‘One More Angel in Heaven’ performed with Western lilt by Richard Carson and the marvellous ‘Those Canaan Days’, a French-inspired number delivered brilliantly by Michael Pickering are a treat.
Sheridan Smith couldn’t be more delighted to be the Narrator and you feel her excitement with winks, nods and cheeky asides at every opportunity. She’s completely in charge and the audience adore her, bringing sparkling vocals to what is by far the biggest role. What a find in Jac Yarrow as the titular hero, not yet graduated from drama school and entirely holding his own on this most famous of stages. The crescendo of emotion he brings to ‘Close Every Door’ is astounding with which Yarrow easily earns his place in the Joseph hall of fame. With little more than 10-minutes as the Elvis-like Pharaoh, Jason Donovan milks every last second and then some. With a spectacular entrance on sedan chair, Donovan’s charisma lights-up the room, a thrill for anyone who saw his own Joseph 28 years ago.
There is a collective feeling of happiness in the audience as the show comes to an end with everyone on their feet for the ‘Joseph Megamix’, enjoying the unabashed sense of fun. In Connor’s production everything is dialled up to 11 and maybe the kooky antics of the narrator and the feeling that almost every moment is in bold, underlined and highlighted in yellow might start to grate, while the more emotional moments of Joseph’s journey are lost to the glee. But resistance is futile, because this production relies on far more than star casting to ensure you have a great time, and it’s lovely to see this show back at the home of family entertainment and so proudly wearing its 50 years of Technicolor glory.
Runs until: 8 September 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton