I’ve always had an odd kind of relationship with stage musicals because, like a baby bird hatching from its egg, I tend to imprint on the first version I see or hear and then never really get on with other versions. This is especially true when I’ve seen the film first and then see a stage adaptation. “Grease” has never been better, for me, than the 1978 movie. I left a (professional) production of “Beauty And The Beast” at the interval because it was so ‘off’ from the animated musical. I’ll never risk seeing “Mamma Mia!” on stage because I enjoy the film so much. I did enjoy “Spamalot” though.
Fortunately, there’s no film version of “Joseph And The Technicolour Dreamcoat” although I have watched the direct-to-DVD staging starring Donny Osmond and an all-star cast so I was looking forward to seeing how this, the 50th Anniversary production returning to The London Palladium for a strictly limited summer run, measured up and given it’s one of the kids’ favourite musicals, off we went to London on a swelteringly hot Saturday in June.
Based on the biblical tale of Joseph, son of Jacob, sold into slavery by his (admittedly understandably) jealous brothers, “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” is an iconically family-friendly musical which showcases the wit and range of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s compositional skill. The simplistic lyrics by Tim Rice are elevated by the energy of the music and the vibrancy of the costumes, sets and casts and its here that this reimagined 2019 production really excels.
Conventionally, the role of Joseph has been a crowd-drawing star name but this production offer Jac Yarrow his west end debut in the pivotal role. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Lee Mead, Gareth Gates, Philip Schofield and Jason Donovan might seem quite the daunting task, but Yarrow leaves them all in the shade as he brings bags of charm and likability to the role of Joseph and he absolutely nails “Close Every Door”.
Returning star Jason Donovan does what’s required of him and makes a good Pharaoh. He enters the play like he’s just stepped out of a Stargate, as his arrival signals a big step up in stagecraft and set design. It’s something of a vocal fig leaf to have such a big production number, but there’s no denying the end result is a whacky and very funny rendition of “Song of the King” so you won’t be complaining.
It’s in Sheridan Smith, though, that this production of “Joseph” finds its own technicolour dream in her role as the Narrator and beyond. Her stage presence is magnetic and her castmates must sometimes be grateful for her taking the occasional break from being on stage because when she’s on, she’s who you’ll be watching. Her energy levels and versatility are a wonder to behold and she brings a warm wit and cheeky fourth-wall breaking mischief to proceedings as she sings and dances her way through the entire musical, a dazzling ringmaster at the centre of Lloyd Webber’s Old Testament circus.
Bright, energetic, colourful, with just the right amount of pizazz, camp and a little bit of cheesiness, “Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” remains as toe-tappingly spellbinding as its ever been and with spectacular set design, choreography, musical arrangements and sure-handed direction the venerable musical feels 50 years young and as fresh as the day Joseph first closed his eyes and drew back the curtains.
Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs until September 8th 2019 at The London Palladium.