Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Tour) – Musical Theatre Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that everybody, whether they think they do or not, knows at least one refrain from Joseph. Originally written for schools, and with almost no dialogue the songs are pretty iconic and a regular go-to for children’s productions.

As such, one of the problems with Joseph is it is an incredibly short show. Usually there is some attempt to rectify this issue by adding new sections. And indeed, with this tour production, the adorable local choir (Myra Tiffin Performing Arts School with Thornton College) get their own little entr’acte at the very top of Act Two – beautifully sung and let’s face it, pretty adorable. We also get several short comic scenes of Joseph’s journey to Egypt in chains which work well – all cartoon-like signs, singing camels and comedy thought bubbles. However, some attempts to ‘pad’ seem inexplicable. We had what seemed to be the full overture at the very top of the show to a rather drab, bare stage. Whilst the orchestra sounded brilliant, it was clear to see a modern audience had little patience for this, with children fidgeting and adults wondering if they had time to grab another drink at the bar. (They did.) Similarly, at the close of the show, after a bouncy upbeat mini Mega Mix, this production chose to reprise Close Every Door – the one slow intense number of the entire show. It was a strange choice, and left the audience a little deflated after all the colourful excitement of this agreeable production.

On the whole, the production is sung beautifully. Joe McElderry is a wonderful singer and is ably supported by the soaring soprano tones of Lucy Kay as the omnipresent Narrator. McElderry makes for a charming and naïve Joseph (who favours Ugg Boots as well as his coloured coat, for some reason). His work on Close Every Door is particularly good, and he also seems to enjoy the small moments of comedy throughout the show, even if we sometimes lose some clarity of the dialogue. Kay’s singing has wonderful tone, and her voice soars when she is comfortable. But whilst her presence onstage seems warm and motherly, Kay could be doing a little more to unlock the natural comic timing of the Narrator role. The Brothers are predictably entertaining and bring lots of dimension to their roles. They seem to be having lots of fun with their big set-pieces, especially Benjamin Calypso and One More Angel in Heaven, and in particular Marcus Ayton as Issacher, Boris Alexander as Dan and George Knapper as put-upon Benjamin draw the eye.

There are some efforts to present the iconic songs in slightly different ways than usual and the attempts at originality are appreciated. For example, Go, Go, Go Joseph has become a gospel life-affirming moment, rather than the upbeat disco vibes of previous productions. In Song of the Pharaoh we get groups of American football players and cheerleaders in skimpy outfits cheering over the traditional Elvis-inspired Pharaoh. Indeed, the three female ensemble seem to be mostly relegated to wearing very little, once they have discarded the long robes of the “hairy Ishmaelites.” Unbelievably, they even have some of their very few solo singing lines taken from them, and sung by men for ‘comic effect’. The poor ladies get a bit of a raw deal with this musical anyway, but this production seems to side-line them even more, having the Narrator ‘fill-in’ as a fourth ensemble dancer when needed just so the choreography looks even. They couldn’t afford one more female dancer? It’s incredibly frustrating that they don’t seem to do much more than tend Jacob, seduce Joseph or scream over Pharaoh. Considering the efforts to ‘modernise’ elsewhere, this seems a huge oversight, although Tilly Ford, Samantha Noel and Gemma Pipe do a fabulous job with difficult material.

As musicals go, it’s abundantly clear Joseph has mainstream appeal. Perhaps due to the fact that Joseph is so pervasive in schools and childhoods across the country, audiences can’t help but have warm, fuzzy feelings towards it. Even I was eagerly (and smugly) reciting the colours list for Joseph’s Coat! Add to this the trend for celebrity casting, and their legions of loyal fans and this musical is likely to be rolled out for years to come. This production is a safe bet for a family audience, and an enjoyable cosy blanket of a performance. Perhaps in darker times, productions such as this are much needed escapism. If you need something comforting and playful this week, this is one for you.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
Tues 28th June – Sat 2nd July, 2016

Then touring to -

Southampton, Mayflower Theatre
5th July – 9th July, 2016

Credits

Cast

Joseph – Joe McElderry
Narrator – Lucy Kay
Jacob/Potiphar – Henry Metcalfe
Pharaoh/Judah – Emilianos Stamatakis
Benjamin – George Knapper
Mrs Potiphar – Tilly Ford
Napthali/Butler – Lewis Asquith
Dan/Baker – Boris Alexander
Reuben – Benjamin Beechey
Gad – Anthony Ray
Asher – Michael Lapham
Zebulun – Jamie Jukes
Simeon – Will Breckin
Issacher – Marcus Ayton
Levi – Tom Hier
Handmaidens – Tilly Ford, Samantha Noel, Gemma Pipe

Crew

Director – Bill Kenwright
Choreographer/Associate Director – Henry Metcalfe
Designer – Sean Cavanagh
Lighting Designer – Nick Richings
Sound Designer – Dan Samson
Musical Supervisor – Tom De Keyser
Musical Director – Kelvin Towse

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Tuesday 28th June, 2016.

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