Review Round-up: Critics Feel Joseph Joie de Vivre
Date: 18 July 2007
The hype was huge, the expectation huge, the opening night huge. Any Dream Will Do reality TV winner Lee Mead (pictured) finally claimed his prize last night (17 July 2007, previews from 6 July) when he opened in the title role of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the West End’s Adelphi Theatre.
Mead follows an illustrious line of former Josephs, including Jason Donovan, Philip Schofield, David Cassidy, Andy Gibb, Donny Osmond, Stephen Gately and Ian ‘H’ Watkins. After ten gruelling weeks of sing-offs and workshops at Joseph School, the public last month voted Mead – already a professional actor, whose credits, in ensemble roles, have included The Phantom of the Opera in the West End and a previous tour of Joseph - their leading man, the so-called “people’s Joseph” (See News, 11 Jun 2007). But did he prove himself to be the critics’ Joseph as well?
First night critics agreed that the musical is going to be a commercial hit – it’s already taken an estimated £10 million at the box office and has extended booking through to next June - that will have camp, colourful, family appeal. While Lee Mead himself received mixed remarks, few could deny his genuine likeability. And in the end, most critics, despite their reservations with reality TV casting and a West End awash with musicals, couldn’t resist the enduring “joie de vivre” of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s freshman bulls-eye. Several also paid tribute to the efforts of the still-polished production’s late director Steven Pimlott, to whom the revival has been dedicated.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat started life in 1968 as a 20-minute entertainment for an end-of-term school concert. By the time it received its Broadway premiere in 1982, it had been expanded into a full two-hour show. Steven Pimlott’s production first opened in 1991 at the Palladium, where it ran for over two-and-a-half years, and also transferred to Broadway in 1993. Pimlott, who died in February (See News, 15 Feb 2007), later directed the all-star 1999 film – featuring Joan Collins, Richard Attenborough, Alex Jennings, Christopher Biggins and Maria Friedman as well as Donny Osmond.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “Lee's just the job. He has footballer thighs, curly black hair and a voice that never gives up even when he misses the melodic line at moments of stress. The mums will like him and other older women find him sexy. Myself, I prefer the camel, but hey, ‘Any Dream Will Do’ … The show looks so much better in the Adelphi than it did before, balancing the charm of the children’s chorus with the vaudeville excesses among the Pyramids and Egyptian café classes with a firmer control. The scale is more suited to the content, and Lee is less desperate to please than either Jason Donovan or (oh God, he was awful) Philip Schofield … It brims with witty musical invention and engagingly literate lyrics, encompassing pop styles of calypso, country music, Parisian café songs and megamix disco sounds, drawing out a fantastic all-purpose finale from such still fresh items as the irresistible ‘Any Dream Will Do’ and the sinuous ‘Close Every Door to Me’ … Rice and Lloyd Webber have written a lovely new song, ‘King of My Heart’, for the Elvis-style Pharaoh (Dean Collinson), which stitches together many fine clichés while inventing some surprise melodic leaps. Preeya Kalidas, the star of Bombay Dreams, makes up in style and beauty as the Narrator what she lacks in vocal texture, while Stephen Tate, the original Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, is a notable Potiphar. Stunning costumes all round, too, and not just the coloured coat.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (two stars) – “Even by the self-parodic standards of a West End first night, this was a pretty bizarre occasion … But everything about the occasion seemed disproportionate to the show itself … Everything about this revival seems either cutesy, camp or calculated. A classic example is Pharaoh's big Elvis-style number which is delivered by Dean Collinson with so much exaggerated hip swivelling, finger pointing and head tossing as to lose its original wit. It also doesn't help that a number which is to meant to advance the plot is rendered incomprehensible by over-amplification. Somewhere inside this big, fat show there is a small, delightful musical struggling to get out. Andrew Lloyd Webber's score shows his undoubted gift for pastiche, embracing, as it does, country and western and Caribbean calypso. Tim Rice's lyrics are also crisp, jaunty and clever … Stripped to its essentials, the show has the innocent exuberance of youth … In this version, everything is covered with the synthetic gloss of showbusiness. Lee Mead, fresh-faced and chubby-thighed in his white loin cloth, is a perfectly decent Joseph … Preeya Kalidas' leggy Narrator lacks the necessary vocal crispness … What you get, in place of narrative drive, are production effects: a flock of technicolour sheep and a Pharaonic fruit machine that dispenses corn cobs. Even the children are largely used as decoration … A musical which once possessed its own buoyancy has been turned into a piece of gaudy, chocolate-box commercialism.”
Rhoda Koenig in the Independent - “Has Andrew Lloyd Webber managed, once again, to use a TV talent contest to make an unknown a star? Commercially, yes indeed, going by the hyperactive box office and an audience that reaches beyond the usual patrons of the West End … It seems less likely that Lee Mead will join the immortals. Lacking in character and with a tendency to give out towards the end of a line, his voice is not the world's greatest, or even the greatest in the show … That honour belongs to Dean Collinson, whose Elvis-imitating Pharaoh matches the original with every dirty growl, falsetto flutter, and sudden, heart-stopping intimacy…But Mead more than fulfils the requirements, with a mop of dark curls, a wholesome, sweet manner, and a way of filling a pleated loincloth that will appeal to all sexes … The real star is Steven Pimlott's production of 1991. It shows, in this revival, what gold-plated professionalism can do for even this simple story of brotherly disloyalty, dream interpretation, and an ending in which the god of vengeance takes a rare day off … It's not only Joseph's coat that knocks your eyes out - all the sets and costumes glow with rainbow hues and joie de vivre.”
Nicholas De Jongh in the Evening Standard (three stars) - “For those of us, aged ten and over, who do not take musicals too seriously, this earliest of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's shows, still does the comic-satirical business with amusing gusto. It offers a seductive blend of camp, kitsch, and cool mockery of a few Old Testament dreamers and tough-boys, not to mention the sound of Lloyd Webber in first romantic and triumphal form …This gawdy, hand-clapping, seductive revival, based upon the popular 1991 production by Steven Pimlott who died in February, jubilantly keeps a satirical tongue in its cheek as it unfolds on a stage that does not need to bother with multi million-pound, scenic sensations … The music and the staging offers no end of appealing parody… Potiphar's Twenties high society world looks a triumph of crazy, mixed-up taste, with men exposing bare legs and white socks, while Potiphar's wife (Verity Bentham) plumbs the depths of come-hitherish vulgarity … Nichola Treherne is credited as associate director, but I suspect the show's co-producer, Bill Kenwright, took a prime hand in the direction, as this evening of delightfully nuanced joie de vivre and spirited jokiness recalls elements of his own production four years ago.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “I suppose one ought to be sternly disapproving about this revival of Joseph … Yet I have to admit to voting for Lee myself and to experiencing a sugar rush of pure pleasure at last night's exuberant premiere when I found myself in the same row as the losing contestants on Any Dream Will Do. The generous enthusiasm with which they whooped and applauded Lee at the end was touching to behold … As Lee was hoisted high into the air on a terrifying piece of machinery to wild ovations during the grand finale, there was no doubt that the former understudy had proved himself a West End star. What Lee Mead has in spades is charm, crucial in a role that could easily seem unattractively priggish. He also looks good in a loin cloth, and has a powerful and expressive voice … By the end, however his vocals were beginning to sound a touch frayed and he and the management need to take care he doesn't overstrain his greatest asset like Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music. Both Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have gone on to bigger things than Joseph, together and apart, but this early piece … has an irresistible bloom of youth about it … What you hear is a composer delightedly discovering his gift for melody. And Tim Rice … is at his witty best, coining couplets Cole Porter might have smiled upon … Nichola Treherne has revived the late and sorely missed Steven Pimlott's 1991 Palladium production with terrific brio and the energy level never flags … Joseph looks like being a sure-fire hit all over again.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail – “Book of Genesis this ain't. Nor is it classic musical theatre or high art. But the Joseph which opened in the West End last night, with TV find Lee Mead in the lead, is cheery, let-your-hair down fun …Trivial? You bet. Goosed to within an inch of its life? Undeniably. But it is amusing and agreeable and perfect for ten-year-olds, as well as grown-ups who have had a couple of sharp ones in the bar beforehand … Lee - he is one of those actors for whom the Mr Mead bit seems arch - is a handsome hit …The voice is weak in the lower register and at one point it almost disappeared completely, washed away by an over-pumpy band and maybe by a dry mouth. He sounded slightly blocked-nosey in the early moments. Flu, maybe … But he has stage presence and a winning way and the public, having voted for him on BBC One’s Any Dream Will Do, will forgive him much. Good. He deserves it… The cameo of the night belongs to Dean Collinson, who gives us an Elvis Presley Pharaoh. Terrific stuff…Lee himself is not a natural comedian. He does not move particularly well. But he hurls himself into the honking cacophony and is almost as gorgeous to behold as Joseph's multi-coloured coat ... Preeya Kalidas, who plays the Narrator, almost dislodged a couple of my fillings, so tunelessly did she screech one or two notes.... On either side of the stage a large choir of pop-eyed children warble away like nestlings...At first I was uncertain if their enthusiasm was infectious or mightily irritating, but I slowly thawed and by the end was humming along with the rest of the stalls…Joseph had won me round. As it will do London.”
- by Ryan Woods & Terri Paddock
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