Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book and Lyrics: Tim Rice and Michael Walsh
Director: David Mallet
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a show that is synonymous with nostalgia; everyone has a childhood memory of seeing it or performing in a school production, so appropriately Andrew Lloyd Webber launches his Youtube musical streaming channel The Shows Must Go On with a vintage version of the show starring Donny Osmond filmed in 1999 and available for 48 hours before Jesus Christ Superstar is upload on Good Friday.
In Canaan, a group of farming brothers live with their father Jacob whose favourite son Joseph is given a dazzling coat of many colours. But his jealous siblings, sick of Joseph and his dreams, decide to sell him as a slave and fake his death. Now in Egypt and in the employ of a local businessman, a series of misfortunes sets Joseph before the Pharaoh whose bad dreams portend big changes for the country and the man who can interpret these signs will be handsomely rewarded.
Promoting this release of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as a theatre production is slightly cheating, as this is a purpose made film version of the musical created specifically for home video (remember that!) sale in the late 1990s. Nonetheless, there are strong links to the production that landed in the Palladium in 1991 starring Jason Donovan and later Philip Schofield, using the costumes, staging, and choreography, this is a nostalgic reminder of that seminal interpretation.
Directed by David Mallet and framed as a school production with pupils and teachers including thespians Alex Jennings, Richard Attenborough and Ian McNeice along with Christopher Biggins and Joan Collins as teachers, taking their seats before the audience disappears into the stage as the show takes hold. Of course, each of these actors then doubles as a character from the story which is a nicely managed conceit with regular cuts to the children back in the hall watching to remind us where we are.
At only 80 minutes, this feels much shorter than the stage version although all the songs are in place, with Mark Thompson’s exuberant set design given a far more central role than characterisation. Each of the backdrops and costumes that you may remember from the Donovan version are here, the exact coat design, the giant Pharaoh’s palace with slot machines dispensing food and the stunning 1920s monochrome chic of Potiphar’s grand home.
The time-travelling nature of this production comes across best in the film, from the fairly timeless desert sequences including the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-inspired One More Angel in Heaven to the 1960s psychedelia of Go, Go, Go Joseph, the Technicolor vision of it all suits the screen really well, allowing the camera to offer angles on the choreography that you just couldn’t see in a theatre.
The downside is that its not really theatre, different segments and locations are cut to rather than flowing natural as they would on stage, the interior life of the characters is more distant and the emphasis is on camera spectacle, so we don’t get to see any of that ingenious theatre magic that transports you between locations while immersing the audience in the character’s lives. This always feels like a film.
Donny Osmond – wearing as much make-up as Joan Collins – is a decent Joseph, sings the big numbers with pop star charisma but he never makes him likeable despite the 100-watt American smile. This Joseph is smug, tactless and a little bit frightening, but he comes into his own in the Egypt scenes. Maria Friedman is the real star as the Narrator who guides the story, taking the audience with her as she sashays her way through the story while Joan Collins as Mrs Potiphar is just a glamorously evil delight and Robert Torti’s Pharaoh is fab.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is one of those shows that defies its age and while a more recent stage production would have been welcome this at least precipitates the return of Jason Donovan and Jac Yarrow to the Palladium this summer if the pandemic abates in time.
Streaming here until 5 April 2020