Tuesday 4th June 2019 at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds.
Well, isn’t Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat something?
For generations it’s been hailed a delight and a classic with entire families raised on its catchy tunes and sense of fun. As someone experiencing it for the first time at the ripe old age of adult however, it’s all a bit…bonkers! In Joseph literally anything goes and it’s a little like a turbo charged panto or the makings of a five year old’s theatre production wish list. Short of an actual jet pack and a UFO, this show chucks the proverbial baby, bath water and numerous kitchen sinks into the mix to produce a wild, weird and ultimately strangely wonderful theatrical experience.
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is of course based on the biblical tale which sees a sweet young boy outcast by his jealous brothers who saw poor Joe as the father’s favourite. Sold into slavery, Joseph winds up second in command thanks to his dream reading capabilities, a good dose of luck and presumably a little unseen divine intervention. There’s a happy ending, naturally and the tale ends as euphorically child-friendly as it begins.
Jaymi Hensley is our Joseph and he’s boyish and endearing with a huge voice and great vocal range, playing the role with a nice balance of twee sincerity and self-aware cheesiness. Trina Hill carries the production from the other side as our equally sweet and lovely Narrator with an equally big voice. Webber’s score isn’t the easiest vocal course to navigate and both Hensley and Hill manage to make some of the more lyrically nondescript songs epic through their musical talents. They are joined by a large and lively cast and a choir of youngsters to complete the wholesome picture.
What this show primarily does is take a very simple story and ram it full of loud and colourful bells and whistles. Everything is big, bigger or biggest. It’s full of camp and colour, spectacle and scale but it’s also one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had in a theatre purely because for all the pomp, the scenes flit around so randomly and the production adopts so many styles so very swiftly that I was sent into something of an incredulous whirl…
Sean Cavanagh’s designs are cartoonish and vibrant, particularly when paired with Nick Richings’ disco style lighting embellishments and Webber’s plucky music. Joseph is clearly a product of its time and of its origins as a production played to schools, opting into every optimistic moment and psychedelic trend of the seventies going, but as a newbie to the show in 2019, it’s difficult to see this product through the same haze as those who grew up with its glorious whackiness. In the cold light of day, the scenes are haphazardly connected and often utterly without a care for continuity. Now in fairness, those qualities turn out to be winners which give way to some fantastic visions of panto-esque hyperbole but it has to be said that this show has to be loved in all its overdone glory, glitterfied warts and all, or not at all. And boy do audiences love it!
Songs are catchy and constant in this sung-through musical but many of the lyrics are decidedly awkward and cringe-worthy in their overly simplistic style – harking back to carpet story time with Miss Primary School. What is lovely is to see just how many styles and genres of music and performance the creators have managed to chisel in which makes for a constant conveyor belt of surprises – the Parisian scene being the highlight. Henry Metcalfe’s original choreography is maintained alongside Gary Lloyd’s additional work and the plentiful musical numbers are ambitious, bouncy and full of ear to ear grinning. The ensemble aren’t always as sharp as they could and should be but generally speaking they’re fantastic and keep the stage impressively awash with frenetic energy throughout.
I do highly recommend this show for any child’s first experience of theatre because through child’s eyes, this production is surely the stuff of fairyland dreams, but unless you’ve been introduced to Joseph in the prime of childhood, I do feel it my duty to warn you that this is either an acquired or a very singular taste in musical theatre. It’s very clearly far more about scale and style than substance but everyone seems to be perfectly in the know and despite being somewhat shell-shocked, I confess that there’s never a dull moment and there’s plenty to surprise – I often marvelled at just how much this show gets away with so all in all, it’s a very entertaining couple of hours!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is presented and directed by Bill Kenwright. It plays at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds until June 15th 2019 and you can find tickets here.