What is it about Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical that attracts such adoring fans? Rarely have I been with an audience more up for a good time from the off, clapping along with the overture (though happily chatting through it too), whooping and whistling their way through the performance till the inevitable standing ovation.
The show, a much bigger beast than it was four decades ago, has some charming songs and some witty pastiches (I particularly like the western and twenties-style numbers), but its current over-amplified version relies more on volume and energy than emotion and clarity: the inaudibility of many of the lyrics is a serious failing.
But pretty soon the skeptic relents and in the end leaves the theatre buoyed up, humming the tunes and taking delight in the audience's infectious joy. And when that audience includes one's own children, literally dancing in the aisles along with everyone else, it is hard to resist. This, it would seem, is a show that it's hard to get wrong.
The direction and Sean Cavanagh's design have witty touches, Jennifer Potts' narrator sings powerfully, and Ian ‘H' Watkins (a new name to me, I'm afraid) as Joseph certainly has the cockiness of one who knows he's the favourite: you have no trouble understanding why his brothers might want to murder him. There is spectacle and colour and the occasional moment of reflection. If you're already a fan, you'll love it.
This is essentially a family show, but the best shows for children are not afraid to look the darker sides of life in the eye: think of Oliver! or Matilda. You never feel that Joseph is in serious danger, so you're not that moved when his tribulations are over and (I'm assuming this doesn't count as a spoiler) he is reunited with his family.
At the end of the show the cast reprises some of the numbers in a ten-minute disco mix, which gets everyone dancing but, one can't help feel, is included just to push the evening beyond the two-hour mark. Inside this overblown (but passionately well-received) show there is a tighter, smarter 90-minute musical struggling to be heard.
- John Campbell