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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat

by on 11 October 2017

You Know What I Mean

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat

by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber

Bill Kenwright Ltd

at Richmond Theatre until 14th October, then on tour until 31st December

Review by Mark Aspen

Before going off to review Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat at Richmond Theatre I rummaged through my wardrobe and dug out the most multi-coloured jacket I had.  Was I upstaged! (It was Harris Tweed.)  There is so much colour in this production (maybe the clue is in the title) that I should have brought along the darkest of my sunglasses.

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat is a staple in the repertoire of producer and director, Bill Kenwright and he has seen it grow over 35 years.   (The original has a pedigree going back almost fifty years, to when the germinating seed of the show was first produced at Colet Court prep school in Hammersmith.)   In this show with many stars, Kenwright’s experience in developing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat really stands out.

3)Joe McElderry in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (c)Mark ...

One of the stars is the design, and the combination of Sean Cavanagh’s set, Nick Richings’ lighting and Alex Stewart’s costumes is kaleidoscopic.  The lighting is vivid saturated gels, vibrant with colour.  Colour changers and gobos give a constant changing interplay with the flamboyant costumes.  At the opening, a hieroglyph bedecked gauze reveals a multi-level set that is full of slick transformations and grandiose drop-in pyramids, sphinxes and massive jackals’ heads.  But the design knows itself and is full of self-deprecating touches such as “cardboard cut-out” camels and goats, Jacob’s tribe in the form of knitted dolls thrust into his arms and rather listless inflatable sheep that don’t quite inflate.  All this adds to an open sense of fun.

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The ensemble approach of the designers off-stage is certainly matched by the ensemble approach on-stage.  The bedrock of the production is the eleven brothers of Joseph, a compelling chorus, hearty and energetic in their acting, singing and dancing.  (Choreographer, Henry Metcalfe, has a large part in this production, and his dynamic dance designs power the pizazz.)  With fraternal versatility, many of the brothers also double in other roles or lead various musical numbers.

The brothers, with Joseph, are the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the well-known story from Genesis of Joseph’s coat of many colours marks an important point in Bible history.  It is a story that fascinates children, partly because of the appeal of the glitzy garment, but also because it involves family and in particular the youngest of the brothers,   Joseph and Benjamin (here beautifully acted by Joseph Peacock: what a look of terror when the “stolen” gold cup is found in his bag).  Can you think of a better form of biblical teaching for children than a sung-through family musical?

Guiding us through the story is the sung narration of Trina Hill.   Lissom, light and lithe she steps through the story with bell-like clarity across an extensive vocal range, helped by a charming children’s community chorus drawn from local stage schools.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have grown Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat by degrees over the years, largely by the interpolation of pastiche numbers in an eclectic mix of styles.  This calls on a very flexible musical director, and Danny Belton (incidentally also an established church organist) and his band of keyboards, guitars and percussion are highly versatile for the stylistic mix.  Stepping from the ensemble, Ben Beechey, as eldest son Reuben, takes the lead in the country and western style “One More Angel”; Gad, played by Matt Jolly leads in the French-Piaff style, “Those Canaan Days”; whilst newcomer Tatenda Madamombe, playing Asher, regales us with the “Benjamin Calypso”.  Complementing the brothers are a fantastic trio of winsome and agile Handmaidens, Anna Campkin, Sallie-Beth Lawless and Gemma Pipe, who further enhance the singing and high-kicking dancing; including a very spirited tango, just to bring in another musical style.

We also see Sallie-Beth Lawless as sexpot Mrs Potiphar, the lady-in-red femme fatale, whose failed seduction of Joseph results in his throw away the key incarceration.  But he is joined by the Butler, played lean and plummy by Craig Nash, doubling as Levi, and by the Baker, bumbling and west-country by Richard J Hunt, who also plays the brother Judah.

Potiphar, who has made his wealth in dealing in shares in pyramids, and is spending it with gusto on gilded furniture and trophy wives, is played with affronted hauteur by the multitasking Henry Metcalfe, one of the company’s stalwarts.   Metcalfe also gives a touching portrayal of the elderly Jacob, mourning Rachael, his wife lost in childbirth, now transferring his affections to Joseph, an attitude which precipitates the other brothers’ resentment.

Joseph’s propensity to precognitive prophesy brings him to the attention of the dream-troubled Pharaoh and not only secures his release from prison, but propels him to being Pharaoh’s number two man, on account of his “flair for economic plannin’ ”.  In Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat, the role of Pharaoh is a gift for any actor who has the acting singing and impersonation skills to attempt an Elvis Presley tribute.   Ben James-Ellis pulls this off magnificently by giving it his all and some more so.  It is a part that cannot be over-acted and James-Ellis clearly enjoys every lip-curl and hip thrust, but who wouldn’t with pyrotechnics announcing your entry and beautiful women throwing themselves at your diamanté-encrusted feet.

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The show of course is all about Joseph and playing the lead role is his namesake, Joe McElderry, famous as a top of the charts star and X-Factor winner.  But this is no commercial celebrity casting: McElderry is a talented musical actor, with an engaging personality, a beaming smile that wins over his audience (and they very much are his), and a comfortable stage presence.  He has a warm vocal quality throughout an imposing range, and moreover a good diction (in spite of over-amplification of the sound, which has a tendency to distort).

2)Joe McElderry in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (c)Mark ...

There is a current tendency in musicals to pump up the amplification until the walls are shaken free of plaster, let along cobwebs, but thankfully in this production sound designer Dan Samson has balanced music and voice to avoid swamping the songs, and his soundscape adds to the party ambience.

But the party must come to an end, and so to the full-on finale, the megamix.  Reprising the encore and then encoring the reprise is rather over-milking it, but the first night audience didn’t seem to care: most were dancing in the aisles.

Joseph is reunited with his father.   “Joseph came to meet him in his chariot of gold”, and onto the Richmond Theatre stage comes a gold Harley Davidson.  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat is a story of redemption and forgiveness, of darkness overcome with light, and greyness overcome with colour, “… red and yellow and green and brown, and scarlet and black and ochre and peach …”.

Take the sunglasses.

Mark Aspen

October 2017

Photographs by Mark Yeoman

 

From → Musicals, Reviews

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