Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Palace Theatre, Manchester, and touring
This is a welcome return of a hardy old vehicle to Manchester theatregoers faced with the onset of Autumn. The show has travelled a long way from its origins in 1968 as a 20 minute school play in a concert version. Along the way it helped to propel its devisers Sir Tim Rice and Lord Lloyd Webber to fame and international success. It heralded their well-loved string of hit musicals that has dominated the genre over the past 40 years. Bill Kenwright's tour offers Any Dream Will Do reality TV star Craig Chalmers in the lead role. He makes a pretty good fist of it despite suffering from a viral infection as was announced at the start of the performance.
The show tells a version of the biblical story of Joseph - the favoured son of his father Jacob - and his resentful brothers who sell him into slavery in Egypt. By a twist of fate he rises to fortune as the second in command to Pharaoh and has a kind of mild revenge on his brothers before the family is reunited.
The props and settings were well achieved. Inflatable sheep and talking animal heads were amongst the clever effects. The staging was simple. A central staircase with a performance area in the middle of it. A second staircase was also adeptly employed in some of the Egyptian scenes.
There was good interplay between the male chorus of 11 brothers and Joseph. They sang and danced very well and one or two were outstanding. This reviewer was struck by Chris Stoddart as Dan who was the best all round singer and dancer in the chorus and Richard J Hunt who played Judah and The Baker and showed a deft flair for comedy.
The Narrator was sung by Tara Bethan. She has a lovely voice but lacked a certain sparkle and didn't always make good contact with the audience.
The stage pictures were beautifully composed. The French chanson-inspired Those Canaan Days particularly stood out. The brothers were dressed in stripy tee shirts with berets, while the women wore similar tee shirts and short skirts. The large projection of the Eiffel Tower on the cyclorama added to the dollops of enjoyable sentiment.
And then of course there was Pharaoh in full Elvis regalia - white rhinestone style jump suit. The stage came alive the moment Stephen Webb made his entrance at the top of the staircase with a burst of dry ice beneath and a lighting effect. The rocknroll rendition of the dream was great fun and his charisma shone through. The different styles of pastiche that were on offer were generally very well realised. This musical is a watertight vehicle after all. There is calypso and country and western amongst the other styles of music.
A final highlight was Potiphar's sequence, rendered in the style of a 20s jazz flapper routine with the costumes to match.
The performers raised their game in the second half after a rather static opening reprise of the big hits from the first by the Joseph Choir from the Stagecoach school in Chester. The tale showed more of the twists and turns of Josephs rollercoaster life as a success in Egypt delivered him to wealth after he was sold into slavery by his brothers.
The finale had the audience firmly on side. Many joined in with the songs, held by the sheer joy and exuberance on the stage by that point helped by three clever, multicoloured coat effects. The reunion of Joseph and Jacob, played by the multitalented Henry Metcalfe who also choreographed the production, was particularly moving. The arrival of Joseph on his chariot of gold aka a gigantic motor bike in that colour was a brilliant coup de théâtre.
The audience were treated to a reprise of the hits from the show and in turn offered a partial standing ovation as a measure of their enjoyment. Any Dream Will Do, the most famous number in the whole show, was sung quite a few times and clearly lapped up by the audience.
Craig Chalmers was very engaging and also occasionally a bit wet as the role demands. He looked as good in his loin cloth as when he wore his more ornate outfits having found success in Pharaohs court.
There were some lovely panto style touches such as signs giving the audience ironic messages like thinks or ooh and so on.
The costumes were cleverly designed. For example, in the Benjamin Calypso all the men wore multicoloured sleeves and the women Carmen Miranda style jazzy, bright, plaited skirts with their stockings on view and attractive head dresses. Another effective sequence was to evoke a Pentecostal choir with black gowns fringed with mauve in the Go Go Joseph routine.
The dancing included an element of ballet at one point fused with rock 'n' rolling and jazzier routines. All seemed to be having fun in the midst of this busy staging. The action spilled over into the auditorium in the finale sequence with dancers performing in the aisles.
This reviewer took all the opportunities afforded to join in with the production. It was as polished and assured as could be desired from the perennial and deservedly adored hit.
Philip Seager reviewed this production at the Lyceum, Sheffield.
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards