Go, go, go see this musical, injected with fresh energy from the incomparable Sheridan Smith, the stupendously energetic choreography by Joann M. Hunter and brilliant set design courtesy of Morgan Large. The new production is a triumph that should not be missed.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Starring Jac Yarrow, Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan
With roots dating back to 1968, you’d be forgiven for viewing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as outdated. Indeed, with so many different productions since that period, under current scrutiny have mostly seemed like cheap pantomime instead of a theatrical spectacle. Fortunately, this limited run version playing at London Palladium throughout the summer, directed by Laurence Connor, is a serious reimagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice‘s classic.
One of the huge successes of Joseph is the huge breadth of variety featured within the score. During the two acts, we traverse musical styles from French ballads, to Elvis, country, Charleston, Calypso, jazz and go-go. This production embraces the eclectic mix, fully committing to the different genres through differentiated choreography, staging and lighting.
It’s almost performed with a knowing wink and a smile at the audience, as characters remain entirely unironically involved in musical numbers, despite the over-the-top and ridiculous energy to most of them. The humour within Tim Rice’s lyrics is also drawn out in a way that I’ve never noticed before. For instance, “All these things you saw in your pyjamas, are a long-range forecast for your farmers” is delightfully silly and yet wonderfully clever writing, especially with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beautiful melodies being used to deliver them. The soundtrack is genuinely delightful because of this sublime union of verbal and melodic dexterity.
Returning to the choreography, this is one of the new productions greatest successes. The ensemble fill the entire stage and are constantly involved in engaging and energetic dances. They give a fresh energy to every single number and pushes the (somewhat non-existent) story through with momentum until the end.
Accompanying the choreography is the wonderful set. This consists of a curved wooden floor, with a blank backdrop and large light for the sun. During the show, the sun moves and changes colour to change the entire tone and aesthetic. A delightful neon Egyptian scene, with brightly illuminated hieroglyphics on the walls, as well as guitar-wielding Egyptian gods, is also a huge success. One of the most notable aspects of the set has to be the multiple-tier lift that also sinks downwards into the stage. The impressive staging is aided by the lush and vivid lighting. In a production like Joseph, where so much is about the colour, there is the worry that the stage will look too busy or cheap and tacky, but that is not seen here. All of the colours are vibrant and deep and the new design of Joseph’s coat itself is gorgeous. The lighting also comes to aid some of the humorous elements, such as a particular amusing section of Those Canaan Days, where – after a Can-Can break – the lighting immediately reverts from a technicolor spectacle to a sepia-toned desert. This is a testament to the clear thought and attention to detail that has been given to this new production.
The music itself is beautifully delivered and sounds gorgeous with the 14-strong orchestra led by Musical Director John Rigby. Every single number is full of unapologetic vivacity and effectively supports all of the other elements of the show. Without the music and orchestra (an oft-overlooked area of musicals, bizarrely), this production would be dead in the water.
Finally, we come to our cast. Sheridan Smith is the star here. Marking her return to the stage after Funny Girl‘s UK Tour in 2017, Smith plays the narrator with relish and a brilliant sense of pageantry. Her role of narrator is nicely padded with a couple of other minor roles, played in a flippant way with a cheeky, “It’s still me!” as she portrays not just the Narrator, but also Jacob, Mrs. Potiphar and an inexplicably Scouse prison guard. She really inhabits the role, perfectly willing to play slapstick and northern humour as well as being able to deliver brilliantly slick choreography and stunning vocals. The show just would not be the same without her infectious energy pushing most of the musical numbers.
The other star name is Jason Donovan, of course, who returns to Joseph to play the Pharaoh. His turn on the stage is somewhat less successful as his song, which is evidently out of his range, was entirely unintelligible from the audience. I think it has something to do with cows.
Rising star Jac Yarrow plays Joseph delightfully, with soaring, emotional vocals on Close Every Door that earned him a standing ovation partway through Act 1. Unfortunately, Joseph isn’t a terribly well-rounded role to get your teeth into, since we only really get to grips with his inner turmoil in Close Every Door but, nevertheless, Yarrow plays him with plenty of heart and spirit.
Perhaps the last great star and success of this production are the use of the children. Used much more effectively than in previous iterations, children are weaved throughout the show, instead of appearing merely to sing and sway in the background. The presence of the children in the cast adds an extra electricity to the performance and it is a testament to the entire team that they are able to so successfully play the entire musical, without missing dance moves or notes. So many heartwarming and funny moments came at the hands of these talented young performers; a particular standout being Potiphar, who was frankly hilarious.
If you are looking for a deep musical theatre experience, Joseph will probably disappoint. Similarly, if you have fallen and hit your head and for some reason do not like Sheridan Smith, you’ll probably hate it, but that’s your loss. However, it is incredibly good fun and rockets to different musical genres so quickly you’ll get whiplash and say thank you afterwards. It will have you moving in your seat and humming the salacious melodies for days. I will certainly be seeing it time, and time, and time again.
Joseph is playing at the London Palladium until September 8. You can purchase tickets here.
P.S. I have strategically not mentioned Benjamin Calypso. No amount of new staging and choreography makes that not racist.