It is a truth universally acknowledge that anyone walking home after seeing a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be singing “ah a ah” to themselves for the next hour or so. Such is the life affirming power of this wonderful musical. If you want a shot in the arm, to have fun, smile, laugh and feel uplifted then Joseph is the show for you. It’s on all week at the Richmond Theatre and it is the perfect pick-me-up as we enter the long cold nights of autumn.
The sets are stunning, the dance routines clever and great fun and the singing is superb. This is a high quality production of a modern classic of musical theatre. Directed by the mercurial Bill Kenwright, written by Tim Rice with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, choreographed by Henry Metcalfe and designed by Sean Cavanagh. This production has excellence written all over it.
The story is taken from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Jacob has 12 sons but foolishly he shows favouritism to his second youngest son, Joseph. He does this by presenting him with a special coat of many colours, thus marking him out as his chosen heir. Not surprisingly the other 11 brothers become jealous (“being told we’re also-rans, does not make us Joseph fans”) and they decide to get rid of Joseph. They sell him to a passing camel caravan on their way to Egypt. They tell Jacob that Joseph died fighting off a vicious goat. There is a nice pun in the song “One More Angel in Heaven” to the effect that it was the coat that got their goat..and it was a goat that killed Joseph. Joseph is a slave in Egypt but his abilities to interpret dreams lead to his rise to power as the Pharaohs’ adviser. Eventually he returns to Canaan and reconciles with his brothers and Jacob.
What is so brilliant about Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is the way in which the story is told through song and dance with the bare minimum of narrative. Although having said that, Trina Hill, as the narrator is superb when she is on stage. She moves the story along effortlessly. Each song is a gem. The title song “Joseph Dream” has become a modern classic and is the tune that everyone leaving the theatre hums to themselves. But the show keeps pulling off song after song that work brilliantly as perfect works of art. The truly original aspect of Joseph is the way the show switches from ancient Egypt in the song “Jacob and Sons”, to the Wild West for the hilarious “One More Angel in Heaven”(sung with perfect comic timing by Ben Beechey) to the 1930s style Berlin Cabaret a al Marlene Dietrich in “Close Every Door”, to the Elvis Presley number “Poor, Poor, Pharaoh/Song of the King” (the King of Egypt meets the King of Rock n Roll. Intriguingly Elvis was from Memphis Tennessee a town named after Memphis in Egypt), in a number which brings the house down, sung by the charismatic Ben James – Ellis, to the Parisian themed melancholy of “Those Canaan Days” (replete with striped shirts, berets, onions strung over bicycle handlebars and an accordion player under the art nouveau lamp post) to the Caribbean carnival of “Benjamin Calypso”. The level of invention needed to bring this off is astonishing. It is so brilliant, it is such fun that it should be on the NHS. It would lift the national mood.
At the centre of virtually every song and dance routine is the outstanding Joe McElderry as Joseph. With the looks of James Dean and the voice of Elvis Presley he is star quality and he can dance. He commands the stage and is so at ease both with himself and the audience that he makes it seem effortless. And that of course is what all great artistes have the ability to do: to make it look so easy. Joe won the “The X Factor” in 2009 and since then has a been a heart throb with fans aged 5-95. In 2011 he won ITV’S “Popstar to Operastar” performing arias such as “Nessun dorma”. So he’s the real deal – able to cross so called boundaries between high and popular culture.
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber will be seen as the English Rodgers and Hammerstien. Indeed Andrew Lloyd Webber will become the only person to equal the record of four shows running concurrently set by Rodgers and Hammerstein back in 1953 when Sunset Boulevard joins School of Rock, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in 2017. Tim and Andrew met up in 1965 and wrote four musicals together; The Likes of Us (1965), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat( 1968), (there is a local connection in that it was written for the Colet Court School in Barnes), Jesus Christ Superstar (1969) and Evita (1976). It is one of the great creative partnerships ever and they have created musicals which will entertain and give pleasure for as long as there are theatres to perform them.
Three cheers for Rice and Lloyd Webber the English Rodgers and Hammerstein.
There can be no higher praise.