Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Derby Assembly Rooms and touring
(2004)

Among the current crop of musicals which have been brought out of mothballs and dusted off for yet another tour, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat stands out - not because of its quality but because it's an eclectic hotchpotch of ideas which somehow hang together in a relatively short show.

Joseph has gone into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-running touring stage musical of all time. It's been on the road for 20 years and has played to millions of people. It actually had its West End debut in 1972.

The show retells the Biblical story of Joseph who is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He learns how to interpret dreams, finding favour with Pharaoh who promotes him to a position of power. Joseph predicts Egypt will suffer from famine and when his brothers come to him for food, he is reunited with his family.

Joseph is a good indicator of what Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were doing in the early days of their partnership, but it's a mystery to me why it's still packing the punters in three decades later. The reason must be that Joseph has a feelgood factor about it; there's a happy ending; and its moral of forgiveness and reconciliation is believable even for non-Christians.

Joseph breezed into Derby for the first time ever at the start of a new tour, promising "sparkling new settings, costumes, orchestrations and lighting". I'd not seen it before and frankly I found lots of it baffling.

First there were the costumes, with prison guards wearing flashy capes and American football helmets; Pharaoh dressed as Elvis; and Jacob and his sons for some inexplicable reason transported to France during one of the songs.

There's also a mishmash of musical genres, the very catchy One More Angel in Heaven done in a Country and Western style, a touch of rock 'n' roll from Pharaoh the Elvis impersonator and even a calypso number.

Some of the lyrics would win prizes only for their naffness. As Joseph puts on his coat of many colours for the first time, the ensemble sing: "When Joseph tried it on/He knew his sheepskin days were gone."

And when singing camels took centre stage, I felt the whole show was becoming just too ridiculous.

But if ever this production of Joseph looks as though it's about to fall apart, it's rescued by its central character and the Narrator.

Richard Swerrun has played Joseph for more than three years. He looks good, has a fine voice and moves confidently around the stage, although the part is not especially demanding.

Amanda Claire holds the show together as the Narrator. She has a beautiful voice, excellent diction and a pleasing stage presence.

And then there is Any Dream Will Do, a simple yet memorable and ubiquitous pop song which everyone can sing along to.

Joseph doesn't have any complex dance routines and it doesn't need acting of the highest calibre. But the cast are totally enthusiastic and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the production.

Director Bill Kenwright - who's had even more success than Lloyd Webber - knows what the public want and gives it to them in this show. Many fans come back to see Joseph time and time again - even though it has its flaws and seems stuck in a time warp.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" tours until January 2nd 2005

Reviewer: Steve Orme