Tag Archives: Bill Kenwright

Dreamy

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 3rd July, 2019

 

The only problem with this show, the first collaboration between Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, is its brevity.  Having start out as a 20-minute piece for a school assembly, the running time has been expanded by the addition of new songs in order to reach a more conventional length for a night out at the theatre.  Some of the additions add little more than repetition.  We get previews of songs before they appear in the storyline.  We get reprises and reprises.  Joseph’s coat begins to feel like a padded jacket.

But beneath the padding, there is the kernel of brilliance.  Rice’s witty lyrics and Lloyd Webber’s score of many colours are at their finest here.  Name another Lloyd Webber show that has such a range of melodies.  Answers on a postcard, please.

The show hinges on its leading man and here, in Jaymi Hensley, it has one of the best I’ve seen.   Hensley’s vocals are richly textured and infused with emotion.  His Close Every Door is breath-taking – it’s the show’s best number and, mercifully, is not reprised to death.  Hensley’s acting matches the quality of his singing.  He is expressive and funny, his reactions fleshing out the part: some Josephs can be arrogant and smug; Hensley combines strength with vulnerability.  He also looks great in the loincloth.

As the narrator, Trina Hill is at her best when belting out, rock-star style.  At times she is swamped by the action and you wonder where her voice is coming from.  Andrew Geater’s Pharaoh replicates Elvis’s intonations – to the point of losing a little clarity.  Even Joseph has to ask him to repeat himself.  Geater pulls it off through energy and commitment.  (At the time of the original production, Elvis was very much still in the building, and the show pastiched popular music genres of the day.  Now its references may be dated, and its satire diminished but it’s still a lot of fun.)

Henry Metcalfe is not only a dignified Jacob and an elegant Potiphar, he also choreographed the production.  With new moves by Gary Lloyd, the dancing is slick, sharp and funny too.  The pas de deux in Those Canaan Days is as impressive as it is anachronistic.  Mrs Potiphar (Amber Kennedy) is a glamorous cougar, stalking her prey.  It’s the anachronisms that make the show endearing and somehow timeless.  The French ballad, the cowboy song, the calypso.  This show is bonkers.  Some might say post-modern.

Among the lyrical and musical wittiness, the power of the story comes through.  The reunion scenes have the power to move – director Bill Kenwright wisely includes moments of silence as events impact on the characters, and Hensley’s Any Dream Will Do, when it is performed in the context of the story, is a tear-jerker.

This production does the material justice, with a superlative ensemble of brothers, wives, and a highly disciplined children’s choir.  But it’s Hensley’s star that shines brightest.

Dreamy.

Jaymi Hensley (Joseph) - Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - UK Tour (096_96A0754) - Pamela Raith Photography

Dreamboat: Jaymi Hensley as Joseph (Pamela Raith Photography)


Wheel Meet Again

GHOST

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 19th September, 2016

 

The musical by Bruce Joel Rubin, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard gets a new lease of life from Bill Kenwright in this new touring production.  Gone are the gliding TV screens I found a distraction in the show’s previous incarnation; instead the action is stripped down.  It’s low-tech and old-school and to my mind the story benefits from this approach immensely, allowing the actors to come to the fore.  Scenes like Sam’s death and the subway ghost’s anger are simply but effectively handled by director Bob Tomson.  In fact, Tomson handles every aspect of the tale well, be it comedy, drama, thriller, supernatural, or just plain romantic.

Former Hollyoaks heartthrob Andy Moss is no stranger to coming back from the dead (his TV character Rhys reappeared as a ghostly figure in the soap, a symptom of another character’s psychosis.  Don’t ask!)  He is the perfect fit for the male lead.  Handsome, funny, charming and sweet, Sam is the boyfriend you wouldn’t want to have gunned down in a bungled mugging.  Moss proves he is leading man material, from Sam’s effortless humour to his confusion and anguish as a powerless ghost.  The singing is powerful, emotional and strong.  Moss carries us with him on Sam’s journey and we are in very safe hands.

Sarah Harding (Girls Aloud) plays bereaved girlfriend Molly – it’s a bit of stunt casting, perhaps, but Harding acquits herself more than adequately.  I find her pop voice suits the rather poppy score.  Her rendition of the heart-breaking With You is sweetly stirring.  If anything, it’s the acting that’s a bit one-note, but her accent is strong and consistent and, let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a thankless role, all grief and vulnerable victim.  Her voice blends well with Moss’s, and she does a good job.

If Moss is the beating heart of the show, Jacqui Dubois as psychic charlatan Oda Mae Brown is the life and soul of the party.  Hilarious in each of her scenes, Dubois really lifts the piece, steering us away from mawkishness.  The comic timing is spot on and the singing to die for.

A slick and smart ensemble supports, with a neat cameo appearance from James Earl Adair as the Hospital Ghost, and Garry Lee Netley as the aggressive, bad-ass Subway Ghost.

Of course, Unchained Melody features, along with the most famous potter’s wheel since the Interlude (ask your gran).  It all adds up to an engaging evening’s entertainment, sweet, touching and at turns hilarious.  It makes me glad this Ghost has been resurrected.

ghost-set-ups-078

Andy Moss and Sarah Harding


Fashion Victim

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 18th May, 2016

 

Way, way back, many centuries ago, I appeared in my school’s production of this show, as the Narrator, and so, of all musicals, this is probably the one I know the best.  In fact, it started life as a 20-minute piece for an assembly and has been added to and added to over the years.  Initially the additions were to flesh out the story.  Nowadays it seems the further additions are to extend the running time – perhaps to make people feel they’re getting their money’s worth.  There is an old saying, however, that less is more.

And so we get previews of songs before they crop up in the story, and endless reprises.  At the core though, the show remains a daft, funny and ultimately moving piece of theatre that can still work its magic despite all the padding.  The plot is, of course, a Bible story, an Old Testament tale from which God is absent.  It tells of Jacob, a fertile old man.  Eleven of his sons envy the twelfth.  The camel’s back is broken by the last straw: Jacob gives his favourite the eponymous garment.  The brothers decide to do away with this rival for their father’s affections and end up selling him into slavery.  Joseph rises through the ranks of Egyptian society, via a detour into prison, because of his ability to interpret the puzzling dreams of the rich and famous.  The fashion victim is able to turn the tables on his detractors.

Joe McElderry dazzles as Joseph.  He has never sounded better and when it comes to the acid test for all Josephs, Close Every Door, he nails it.  The song, not the door. I get chills; they multiply.  He looks great too – he can certainly fill a loincloth – apart from one scene when he is dressed like a gold Power Ranger doing Phantom of the Opera.  McElderry is matched, if not surpassed, by a terrific Narrator – soprano Lucy Kay, whose voice ranges from the operatic to power rock.  I can’t remember a better Narrator – me included!

Choreographer Henry Metcalfe appears as Jacob and the rich merchant Potiphar.  His choreography matches the genre of each song, adding to the fun and spectacle.  The chorus of brothers largely act as one – this production doesn’t give them each a wife to dance with, and so there is a distinctly masculine feel and sound to their numbers.  It’s difficult to single them out for praise but Benjamin Beechey makes his mark as eldest son Reuben, especially during Country and Western lament, One More Angel In Heaven; Jamie Jukes stands out as Zebulun; and Marcus Ayton’s Issacher delivers a rousing calypso; Lewis Asquith’s Butler is a curious mixture of Egyptian posturing and upper class twit.  The show requires everyone to be versatile and this lot pull it off with aplomb.  Those Canaan Days, an inexplicably French number, is hilariously melodramatic.

The other big role, that of the Pharaoh, is always a highlight.  Emilianos Stamatakis delivers The King, a Las Vegas Elvis in the white jumpsuit of his prime.  It’s an electrifying performance that is diluted by one-too-many encores and a relatively new song, an interpolation that seems nothing more than an excuse to namedrop as many Presley song titles as possible.  It makes me wonder what the youngest members of the audience get from this, with Elvis less than a current event.  There is much to enjoy in Stamatakis’s rendition at face value, I suppose, but it strikes me the primary school attendees will be more familiar with the Ancient Egyptian iconography in the set design than the works and mannerisms of the King.

A choir of local school children appears – they get their moment in the spotlight for a medley that kicks off the second act.  A great opportunity for them to appear alongside professionals in a high quality production.  The show is colourful, irresistibly and energetic, and is enhanced by plenty of silly business – a singing camel’s head, a bottomless boat, inflatable sheep that don’t always rise to the occasion.  Director Bill Kenwright somehow keeps the whole enterprise fresh, despite its familiarity and its playing-for-time padding.

To my mind, it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best piece.  Nowhere else has he used pastiche so effectively and honestly.  The pop tunes, across a range of styles, are matched perfectly by Tim Rice’s witty, very English, lyrics.  All the fun culminates in a simple but moving moment of reconciliation and reunion that gets me every time. The emotional impact sneaks up on you – you’re surprised by how affected you are, and that is why this show works time and time again.

Joe McElderry in Joseph(c)Mark Yeoman (2)

 Joe McElderry displaying his X factor  (Photo: Mark Yeoman)