Trina Hill (Narrator), Jaymi Hensley (Joseph) & the cast of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – UK Tour Photo: Pamela Raith
Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome
Performance Date: 03 July 2019
Star Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Continues to endure and delight audiences old and new
Since its West End premiere in 1973 Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has enjoyed unparalleled success. The show is currently in the throes of a resurgence with Bill Kenwright and Really Useful Group’s UK tour delighting audiences across the country. London audiences are also enjoying a big budget revival, starring former Joseph, Jason Donovan, in the role of Pharaoh.
Joseph, a sung-through musical with music and lyrics by creative legends Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is based on the ‘coat of many colours’ story from the Bible’s book of Genesis. Arrogant in the knowledge he is the favourite of his father’s 12 sons, Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy is amplified when Jacob presents his son with the Technicolor Dreamcoat. Livid at the blatant favouritism, the brother’s conspire to kill Joseph, before deciding to cash in, selling him into slavery. Eventually, Joseph finds himself in Egypt and right-hand man to the Pharaoh.
Joseph is a classic, family friendly musical; its familiarity is like an old friend and is partly why the show continues to endure. However, despite Gary Lloyd’s revamped choreography this production is a carbon copy of those that came before it, which unfortunately is to its detriment.
Joseph was initially presented as a 15 minute ‘pop cantata’ at a school in London in 1968. Later incarnations of the show have included new songs, developed to expand the length of the piece to sit more comfortably in a traditional theatrical format. The 1999 direct-to-video film starring Donny Osmond has a running time of 76 minutes. The problem with this production is the unnecessary amount of fillers used as a ruse to pad out the running time of the show.
We begin with a long instrumental overture, which drags despite showcasing the talent of the accomplished orchestra. The second act opens with a similar theme, this time the score repeated by the beautifully disciplined local children’s choir of Birmingham’s School of Theatre Excellence. Bordering on pantomime, the show concludes with the Joseph Megamix Reprises. With the format and formula of Joseph tried, tested and loved by so many it is hard to be critical, yet the instrumental fillers do begin to feel somewhat forced and unnecessary.
With shows such as Come From Away and SIX the Musical successfully adopting a straight-through format, Joseph is crying out for a similar approach. The flow of the piece would undoubtedly benefit from this type of reinvention, freshening it up and reimagining it for a modern audience.
Union J’s Jaymi Hensley steps into the iconic coat and immediately demonstrates that Kenwright’s casting for this tour is spot on. He is a wonderfully endearing Joseph, his vocals are at times operatic and his solo of Close Every Door is spine-tingly beautiful. He is complemented in droves by Trina Hill as the Narrator who herself has an incredibly rich voice. The Narrator is a challenging role but Hill confidently and successfully manages to hang the narrative together whilst delivering her numbers with poise and assurance.
Joseph veteran Henry Metcalfe returns to the dual role of Jacob / Potiphar and shines in both. It’s easy to see that this role is a complete joy for him and this translates to his performance. The collective of brothers is undeniably strong with Alex Hetherington standing out as Benjamin. It’s the numbers where the brothers feature that the slick new choreography comes into its own.
Ed Tunningley and Lewis Asquith provide solid turns in their roles of the Baker and the Butler, Asquith in particular, a delight. Andrew Geater elicits some of the biggest cheers of the night thanks to his lively portrayal of the animated Pharaoh struggling to make sense of his confusing dreams. Channelling his inner Elvis, Geater delivers the Pharaoh’s signature number Song of the King with infectious enthusiasm and incredible energy.
Whilst technically this production of Joseph is not the best that you will see, it still packs a punch with its iconic score and the beautifully bright stage design by Sean Cavanagh, complemented by clever lighting from Nick Richings. The large and expansive stage of the Hippodrome suits the production to a tee and what the show lacks in substance it makes up for in fun, frolics and exuberance. It is also a tremendous opportunity to introduce younger audiences to the theatre.