Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – a well-executed classic (Grand Opera House until Sunday 9 October)

At one end of the scale of Biblical stories set to music you have Richard Strauss’ Salome, a horrifying retelling of the depraved story of the death of John the Baptist that exposes the vulnerability of Herod’s stepdaughter. At the other, there’s Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical potpourri of styles with comical lyrics, a very western take on a familiar tale with a knowing sense of mischief.

Alexandra Burke revels in the roles of narrator, a bearded Jacob and a sultry Potiphar’s wife, full of beans throughout, never standing still in a joyfully hyperactive performance. Her sense of timing lands every joke in her dialogue, often with a shimmy and a raised eyebrow. Jac Yarrow’s Joseph is a commanding presence on stage. While he’s vocally less powerful than the narrator, Burke’s buttery alto line slips in beautifully under Yarrow’s tenor tones in the pair’s only duet in the final Any Dream Will Do.

The first act’s Go, Go, Go, Joseph finishes with cheerleaders so it’s not much of a shock that the hip-wriggling King pops up for an Vegas-tastic Song of the King when Pharaoh (Bobby Windebank) finally appears after the interval. Throw in some tap dancing, Parisian chanson, calypso, jazz and country, the form is varied and certainly complex enough to never become paper thin even though the storytelling is uncomplicated. Even the saddest moment – One More Angel in Heaven – can be turned into an upbeat hoedown that wouldn’t be out of place in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Eight young touring actors are very well integrated into the full duration of the story. They come into their own when they’re let loose on adult characters (with comic effect) alongside their roles as younger siblings. The first couple of verses of the Any Dream Will Do reprise are backed by the children, fully recreating the sweet-sounding version from CDs of the 1980s or 1990s.

Narrator aside, this is a very male-dominated story, so there is a tendency for director Laurence Connor to bring on the dancing girls to cover over set changes. Morgan Large’s costume design dazzles throughout, even managing to work in multi-coloured petticoats to the Canaan can-can. The full-cast numbers are well choreographed, at times augmented by sheep on wheels, camel-powered chariots and four-metre-tall gold-plated dogs that mouth along with the words. The set revels in its billowing fabrics, stars and a shifting sun. Watch out for the references to other Lloyd Webber shows in the hieroglyphic backdrop to the Pharaoh’s set.

Amazingly, the production scrupulously avoids falling into the trap of being camp. Instead, Joseph’s success is in systematically not taking itself seriously. The musical director John Rigby joins in with all the actions in the final toe-tapping megamix, much to the cast’s delight. A Trump-esque pyramid appears with a gold P on top, a lovely nod to world affairs. Tim Rice proves he’s king of the lyrics with the line “All those things you see in your pyjamas are a long-range forecast for your farmers”!

Shorter than most recently touring productions, you’ll be out the door bang on half past nine. There’s no attempt to work the audience up into an emotional frenzy other than the joy of experiencing a very well-constructed and well-executed version of a well-known musical.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs at the Grand Opera House until Sunday 9 October.

Photo credits: Tristram Kenton

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