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.