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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
New London Theatre 2003-2005

(Scroll down for our 2004 update)

I know that I am not alone in thinking the first product of the Tim Rice - Andrew Lloyd Webber team to be their best, and the score ALW's most enjoyable until Phantom. I do have the odd disadvantage of having seen the very modest first professional production, by the Young Vic at the Edinburgh Festival in 1972, so that I can't help finding all the subsequent elaborations, particularly the more and more spectacular productions over the years, to be unnecessary gilding of a perfectly lovely lily. (A friend who saw the show first at her children's school has the same prejudice.)

So I must begin with the disclaimer that some of the razzle dazzle of Bill Kenwright's new revival is not especially to my taste, but follow quickly with the assurance that I am in a tiny minority. Certainly the show's many delights ultimately conquer any cavils (and I will have a few more, later on), and I defy the most curmudgeonly to resist falling under its spell.

Does anyone not know that the young Rice and Lloyd Webber took the biblical tale of Joseph and set it to a grab-bag of pastiche song styles, ranging from calypso and French chanson to rock'n'roll? The melodies themselves are pleasantly hummable, the lyrics frequently surprise with their cleverness (Joseph, interpreting Pharaoh's dream: "All those things you saw in your pyjamas/Are a long range forecast for your farmers"), and the musical incongruities are part of the joke, as when the brothers, reporting Joseph's supposed death, suddenly turn into cowboys yodelling the tear-jerking One More Angel In Heaven, or when Pharoah turns out to look and sound a great deal like the Vegas-era Elvis.

Bill Kenwright's staging and Henry Metcalfe's choreography keep things moving, providing visual humour without overpowering the score and story, and I was pleased that Kenwright has restored the children's choir - the purity of their voices is a musical delight that no adult chorus can match

A few cavils: As Joseph, ex-Boyzone singer Stephen Gately is appropriately boyish, but sometimes sounds like he learned his lyrics phonetically, and he's been given a really bizarre arrangement of the leave-it-alone-and-it's-lovely Close Every Door. Vivienne Carlyle's Narrator is occasionally muddy of diction. With 20,000 Elvis impersonators out there to choose from, Trevor Jary doesn't do a particularly good imitation as Pharoah. And, while a particularly good night and excited audience might warrant the more than 15 minutes of post-curtain-call encores, they do begin to feel like mere padding.

My nine-year-old companion lapped it all up,  loving the songs, the spectacle and  the visual jokes - the pop-up sheep, the singing sphinx, and the like - and I see no reason why this show shouldn't replace Cats as the family show of choice for introducing kids to the theatre. It is certainly miles better than the execrable Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

April 2004: Continuing his practice of casting to attract people who are not normally theatregoers, producer Bill Kenwright has brought Ian Watkins, better known to those below a certain age  as 'H' from the late pop group Steps,  into Joseph, which is as good a reason as any to revisit my favourite Tim-and-Andrew musical.

Watkins proves, unsurprisingly, to be quite fine in the role, with a pleasant singing voice and an air of enjoying himself that creates a nice rapport with the audience. He looks good in a boyish way, sings the serious songs sweetly and gets laughs when he should, and you can't ask much more of a Joseph than that.

Elsewhere, some of the things I had doubts about last year seem better now.  As the narrator, Vivienne Carlyle has settled in nicely, losing the muddiness of diction that I complained about, and conveying a real warmth and charm, like a child's favourite elementary teacher.

Simon Bailey, the current Pharaoh, does an even worse Elvis impersonation than his predecessor, but even that works out, since he's so far off the mark that you stop thinking of it as an Elvis take-off, and just enjoy him on his own terms.

As I said in my original review, my own taste leans toward a modest, unspectacular staging of this fragile little show, but I have to admit that Kenwright's production is colourful and flashy without being overpowering, and filled with witty touches and in-jokes (I didn't notice last year that the helmet Joseph wears in the final scene is a parody of the Phantom's mask).

And it is a tribute to its new star that the 15 minutes of post-curtain call encores didn't seem so forced and excessive this time around. I saw it with the same young friend who accompanied me last year, and she enjoyed it just as much as she had before.

The last show in this theatre was Cats, which stayed on for 21 years entertaining kids, tourists and other nontraditional audiences. As long as the producer can keep finding attractive pop stars to plug into it, there's no reason why Joseph shouldn't have a long and happy run as well.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

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Review - Joseph/Dreamcoat - New London 2003