Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (The London Palladium)
The iconic musical returns in a new production at The London Palladium
Are you old enough to remember Jason Donovan or Phillip Schofield in the lavish early 90s Palladium Joseph? Maybe you caught Lee Mead in the TV talent show spin-off? Or perhaps you saw one of a galaxy of minor boyband members in the budget touring version which feels like it's been doing the rounds at least since biblical times. Donny Osmond in the film? You might even have been in the show at school, in which case the anthemic "Any Dream Will Do" probably renders you all misty-eyed every time you hear it.
Anyway, forget about all that if you're coming to see this new Palladium production as what we have here is basically The Sheridan Smith Show, loosely based on the beloved Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber family hit. Not inappropriately for the foremost Variety Theatre in the land, the overall tone is nearer to a high budget summer panto than a traditional West End musical.
Playing not only the Narrator but also, unexpectedly, Jacob (of "And Sons" fame), Potiphar's comically libidinous wife ("come and lie with me, love") and an improbably Scouse gaoler, Sheridan is Everywhere. She leads the kids, heads up company numbers, she body-pops, belts, gurns, pokes her tongue out, she dons an eye patch and a false beard, she constantly pulls focus, and barely leaves the stage... It's an admirably committed performance and a resoundingly brash return to the West End that will delight her legions of fans. People less keen on her may find themselves somewhat bewildered and longing for the (comparatively) restrained charm that Linzi Hateley brought to the role on this same stage nearly 30 years ago.
For nostalgia purposes, it's nice to see former Joseph, the ever game Jason Donovan returning, this time as an Elvis-lite Pharaoh. He gets a spectacular entrance worthy of Cecil B DeMille, borne aloft on a burnished gold throne, and has fun with his rock'n'roll number despite it being out of his vocal range and almost unintelligible in terms of the lyrics.
Iffy star casting aside, Laurence Connor's energetic staging contains a lot to love. JoAnn M Hunter's versatile choreography is a high octane joy, taking in everything from street dance, tap, line dancing, to a riotous can can; this is probably the nearest Joseph will ever come to being a full-on dance show. The indefatigable supporting company give it their considerable all, simultaneously belting impressive harmonies. The sizeable orchestra sounds wonderful playing John Cameron's sparkling orchestrations.
Morgan Large's appropriately garish designs and Ben Cracknell's frequently stunning lighting are highly pleasing and some of the props are truly delightful (wait until you see the giant bicycle camels!) The children in the cast are employed to unusually potent comic effect as some of Joseph's brothers and, at the press performance I attended, Oliver Crouch brought the house down as a pint-sized, pompous Potiphar.
Newcomer Jac Yarrow has a sweet, supple baritone of considerable power that makes something thrilling out of "Close Every Door To Me" and clearly enjoys the moments when he cuts loose in the dance numbers with the terrific ensemble. Good as he is, he can't disguise the fact that Joseph remains the most underwritten title role since Harvey the invisible rabbit. Michael Pickering is marvellous as one of Joseph's brothers leading a mournful French chanson that suddenly flips into jaw-dropping athleticism.
Lloyd Webber's eclectic, crowd-pleasing tunes and Rice's genuinely witty lyrics ("all these things you saw in your pyjamas, are a long-range forecast for your farmers") remain a source of pleasure despite the uneasy sense of being a cute schools oratorio bloated out of recognition into a full length extravaganza.
Enjoyable as it is, it's all a bit relentless. However, if you're a die hard Sheridan Smith fan you can probably add at least one more star to the rating above.