As one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more prolific musicals, particularly so since being the focus of TV talent show hunt Any Dream Will Do back in 2007, kickstarting a slew of such shows fronted by Lloyd Webber, it’s difficult to envisage how this latest incarnation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat could bring anything particularly fresh or new to audiences already familiar with the show. Whereas the recent touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar was given an even grittier and more current re-imagining inspired by the London riots of 2011, what we are provided with Joseph is a much safer and more conventional affair.
This is not necessarily a negative, however, as the core narrative of the show is a much breezier and more ephemeral one that whips through time and space and focuses on ideas of dreams and hopes with a lightness of touch and simplicity that just wouldn’t suit a heavier or more melodramatic re-interpretation. The show follows the journey of Joseph, one of 12 brothers who is sold to slavery by his embittered siblings, as he undertakes a (literally) Biblical journey from rags to riches. Along the way he endures the likes of singing camels, wrongful imprisonment, a healthy dose of camp and colour and a visit to Egypt as seemingly imagined through the filter of Las Vegas, complete with it’s own Elvis-impersonating Pharoah.
As mentioned, it is a relatively superficial, predictable and simplistic morality fable, but the real strength of this production comes from its willingness to poke fun at itself and have a tremendous amount of fun throughout. Much of this is derived from Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s wonderfully ecclectic score, and a kinetic, surprisingly resourceful and diverse approach to the lighting and production design. A real chameleon of a show, Joseph dips in and out of different musical genres and beats with a real pace and vigour, and more often than not the set, costumes and overall look and vibe of the show spring to life and adapt just as thoroughly. Generally the result of this bricolage of styles and moments of satire such as the aforementioned Vegas influence (or the brilliant French slant of ‘Those Canaan Days’) are intentionally comedic, resulting in a musical that never takes itself particularly seriously and is winningly entertaining and humorous throughout.
Keith Jack, runner-up of the original Any Dream Will Do TV show, does a solid job as the titular Joseph, suitably endearing and certainly looking the part, whilst recent graduate Lauren Ingram brings a gentle warmth and strong vocals to her turn as the shows ever-present narrator. Luke Jasztal whipped the audience into a suitable frenzy with his big show number ‘Song of the King’ as the Pharaoh, though with some of the lyrics difficult to discern for those unacquainted with the score, the brilliantly post-modern ‘King of my Heart’, which manages to mention practically every major Elvis hit, was a far better demonstration of Jasztal’s abilities in the role.
Henry Metcalfe is grounding and admirably restrained amongst the madness as Joseph’s father Jacob, though does get the opportunity to ham it up a little more as Egyptian millionaire Potiphar. The ensemble of Joseph’s 11 brothers and the remainder of the company give spirited, energetic performances and throw themselves into the plethora of different dance styles, comedy sequences and overall kaleidoscope of ideas with real vim and zest throughout.
This is by no means the definitive interpretation or production of Joseph. At times the ideas and ambition surpass the execution, and on occasion the choreography and blocking can come across as wobbly and erratic (though the dancing in particular is, for the most part, of a great standard). This is also a show which is at its most entertaining and effective when it is allowed to be excessive, referential and quirky, and when it pauses for moments of tenderness, emotion or rumination some of its faults and shortcomings in terms of both performance and narrative become much more glaring and noticeable.
If you’re unfamiliar with previous productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, you will find in this latest tour a surprisingly postmodern and exuberant musical that is much more about the experience and fun factor than it is character or narrative. For fans of the show, be assured that the music and spirit of the Joseph experience remains faithfully intact with all involved giving it their absolute all.
It’s unlikely Joseph will amaze or astound you and redefine what you come to expect from musical theatre, but it never attempts or professes to. Rather it is colourful, accessible, guilt-free, family-friendly fun. And for the majority of people who spend their hard-earned money on a night out at the theatre, that’s precisely what they’re after.
- Kyle Pedley
The production continues at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 16 February