I remember a rather famous movie star associated with old MGM musicals once saying to me that people should not sneer at Andrew Lloyd Webber as far as he was concerned. Webber, he pointed out, has given a lot of performers a lot of work over the years; and he has also given a lot of pleasure to a lot of people in asudiences around the world. That is, after all, no mean achievement.
I was reminded of this while attending a performance of the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The audience was delighted, entranced, and participating throughout as much as possible. There was a lot of pleasure being had!
And while the music and lyrics were not, perhaps, the best of Jerome Kern or as refine as Rodgers and Hammerstein, they were very good examples of the pop idiom, witty and memorable, generically stylish and fun.
It is over 45 years since this musical was written and it still holds up. The Bill Kenwright production is visually very appealing because of the designs of Sean Cavanagh and the excellent lighting plan of Nick Richings; the playing around with Egyptian hieroglyphics and cartouches and cartoon style costumes in blazing colours is a real treat to the eye. The whole show is coherent in every aspect and a very witty, funky retelling of the Joseph legend.
The Biblical story has some very dark aspects and I would certainly have preferred a bit more sobriety at times, or some gravitas when it came to episodes such as the one of Potifphar’s Wife. The production perhaps needs a bit more dramatic pacing. But you can probably trace the style and success of the latest Broadway hit, the hip-hop Hamilton, back to the inventions and innovations of this musical. Don’t take it for granted. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice deserve praise and respect for their breakthrough musical; and it still holds up.
The cast is uniformly fine, with Emilianos Stamatakis as a superb Presley-like Pharaoh, and some standout solos from various brothers. Indeed, the brothers just about steal the show!
The entire show is the thing once you have seen it; but I guess the tickets are being sold on the strength of Joe McElderry as Joseph and Lucy Kay as the Narrator. Kay has a lovely voice that needs some work to correct a distinct wobble at the top, but she definitely hasn’t got the strength of stage presence for this central role at this point. She is “good enough” however; and maybe will get stronger as the tour continues. McElderry is not the strongest actor; but he has bags of charm and charisma and a really fine voice that sings the music itself memorably. He is extremely acceptable as Joseph. He comes into his strength at the end when the show turns into a kind of pop concert. He is a confident performer throughout, however, and I get a sense of someone working hard to develop his talents, of which he has more than a sufficiency.
So all in all, this is a fine and entertaining night out; and it is a good family outing. I want especially to praise the children’s choir, which is being trained in each venue with local kids, and which was delightful in Oxford. Kelvin Towse was the musical Director the night I attended and his control of the musical elements was exemplary. The stage and pit were working together. The Choreography of Henry Metcalfe was fun and everyone on the stage was well drilled in the movements and communicated to the audience what a good time they were having.
In summation, you will have a very good time as long as you are not expecting Joseph to be more than it set out to be – which is usually why people slag off Andrew Lloyd Webber. They are disappointed that it is not what Lerner and Loewe might have achieved with the material when what they should be doing is accepting what is actually before them. That is really fine!
- Lyrics: Tim Rice
- Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Cast Includes: Joe McElderry, Lucy Kay, Emilianos Stamatakis, Henry Metcalfe, Lewis Asquith, BEnmjamin Beechey, Tilly Ford, Jamie Jukes Sackie Osakonor, Anthony Ray
- New Theatre, Oxford
- Until 12 March 2016
- Review by Mel Cooper
- 11 March 2016