JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 6th April 2022
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s first (and best) musical is on the road again in this refurbished production by director Laurence Connor. There are a few interesting changes, most of which work brilliantly. Firstly, the use of children. Liberated from the usual choir corral, the kids come and go, singing and dancing along with the other performers. Connor also uses kids in character roles: the younger brothers, for example, complete with comedy beards. This serves as a reminder that the piece was originally conceived as a school play.
Another big change is the expansion of the role of the Narrator. The mighty Alexandra Burke leads us through the story, with charm, good humour, and above all, that marvellous voice. Connor also has her don a comedy beard to portray the patriarch Jacob. Burke does a good job but I miss the old man. At the show’s climactic point, the father-and-son reunion is therefore diluted, robbing the show of its emotional kicker. Oh, well. Burke also takes on the role of seductress Mrs Potiphar – surely there are guidelines about making a pregnant actor work so hard! – She is clearly having a lot of fun in this show, and she handles the crowd like a boss.
As Joseph, rising star Jac Yarrow is instantly appealing, with his boy-next-door good looks, powerful vocals, and broad shoulders. His Close Every Door stirs the blood.
Beardless, singleton Joseph is coded as different from his hirsute and married brothers, who soon tire of their father’s favouritism, Jacob’s encouragement of Joseph’s flamboyance — he may as well wrap the kid in a Pride flag – so they plot to get rid. This gives us the marvellous country-and-western number, One More Angel In Heaven, complete with a culture-clashing Hebrew hoedown. The joy of this musical, for me, is Lloyd Webber’s shameless use of pastiche, cobbling different styles of popular music together in his richest, most fun score.
It’s a short show still, having been extended over the years from its school hall origins. To give it a decent runtime, we get reprises and prolonged dance sequences. I prefer a leaner version, where we don’t hear the same song twice.
Featuring as the Pharaoh is national treasure, former pop-and-soap star Jason Donovan. Incredibly, it’s been thirty years since he donned a mullet and a loincloth to give us his pop-oriented Joseph (while Yarrow’s is more musical theatre) and it’s a treat to see him as the King, incorporating Elvisisms into his performance. Donovan is golden, and there is much love for him in the room, a considerable amount of it coming from me.
The highlight of the second act is the brothers’ French song, Those Canaan Days, a wonderfully camp staging complete with a can-can. All the dance routines bring a smile. Joann M Hunter’s exuberant choreography and the cast’s tireless efforts give us much to enjoy, even if it’s chiefly to extend the running time. The show has more padding than a drag queen’s bra, sacrificing dramatic impact in favour of fun. But, hey, it IS fun, and fun seems to be this production’s watchword, and there’s nothing wrong with fun.
Yarrow is great, Donovan is marvellous, but if I’m being honest as coconuts, the show belongs to the indefatigable Alexandra Burke in a winning performance that demonstrates her comedic skills as much as her rich, tingle-inducing voice.
A bright and colourful, tuneful treat.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆☆