Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

9 June 2008
Alban Arena, St Albans

I Closed My Eyes .... And Can't Stop Humming!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat is a bit like Marmite. You either love it or you hate it, and just as I am rather partial to the yeast extract based spread, I have always enjoyed Joseph!

In a nutshell the story is as it is in Genesis and if on the off chance you're not familiar with it, the basic story is thus.
Jacob has 12 sons but favours the youngest Joseph, seemingly just because he liked his mother the best! Joseph has irritating dreams and annoys his brothers by interpreting them as signs that he will end up greater than them. The final straw comes when Jacob gives Joseph a rather snazzy coat!

The brothers plot to get rid of annoying Jo, quite understandably in my view, and he is eventually sold as a slave bound for Egypt where, after a spell languishing in jail, he finds the greatness that he dreamed about as an interpreter of the Pharaoh's dreams.

After some ridiculous scam with a golden cup that I still don't fully understand, Joseph, who is supposed to be the hero, is eventually vindicated, but for the most part I totally sympathise with the brothers! And Jacob’s parenting skills leave a lot to be desired – I didn’t think you were supposed to single out one child for special treatment!

In realising his dreams, Joseph appears as conniving, insensitive and arrogant as some of the best in “The Apprentice” so I’m really not sure what the religious message of this tale is anymore! And to cap it all, the dreams that he has to interpret aren't exactly challenging, he just has to use a bit of common sense!. One is about a baker who is carrying loaves of bread and birds come down and eat it all. Hmmm - now let me see - maybe something not very good is going to happen?!

But nevertheless, in this Rice and Lloyd-Webber musical the story manages to find great form, due to Tim Rice's genuis lyrics and Andrew Lloyd-Webber's incredibly catchy tunes. It is a feast of highly entertaining song and dance numbers in very different styles, from country and western to Parisian and gospel to Hawaiian.

This re-telling of the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the first ever fashion faux pas - the coat of many colours, marked the beginning of the legendary partnership of these two and it's hard to believe it’s over 40 and still going strong - a little like me!

I love the genius of Tim Rice's lyrics - any man who can rhyme "pyjamas" with "farmers" or write the following:
"He's the greatest man since Noah, It only goes to show-ah!" - deserves a knighthood in my book - and thankfully he has already got one!

And I love Lloyd Webber's annoyingly catchy tunes that I am still singing - "Close Ev'ry Door to Me", One More Angel", "Go, Go, Go Joseph" and "Any Dream Will Do" to name but a few. Although by the fifth reprise of the latter, it IS becoming a little wearing!

The cast can take a lot of credit for the joie de vivre of this production. They put in an energetic performance and looked as though they were genuinely enjoying themselves throughout!

Over the years the title role has been played by many famous names, Darren Day, Phillip Schofield, Donny Osmond and of course the wonderful Jason Donovan. In this touring production, Craig Chalmers took on the role. He was one of the finalists in BBC TV's 'Any Dream Will Do', losing out to eventual winner Lee Mead, who got the West End gig. And, not being funny, but you can see why Craig has been confined to the provinces. He gives an enthusiastic performance, and has a winning smile and a lovely voice, but it's just not as strong as Lee's. Also, his acting skills aren't that strong.

There are two other reality 'rejects' in the show as well, so it seems that all is not lost if you don't win the coveted West End role.

Tara Bethan got to the final 12 in 'I'd Do Anything' and while she wasn't Nancy, her clear strong singing voice filled the arena in the demanding role of the Narrator, which just goes to show that, just because you've got a good voice, it doesn't mean you're right for every musical role. Tara left the BBC show with doubts over her being able to do eight shows a week. On this evidence, I can't see a problem!

Antony Hansen was one of Craig's colleagues in the 'Any Dream' final and played the usual hip-shakin' Elvis style Pharoah with style and he also took on the role of one of the eleven brothers, all of whom looked different (I suspect that dad Jacob was a bit of a randy old dog!) and fairly bounded on stage every time they were required.

The production itself is, as you might expect, very colourful with some humorous touches such as a talking camel, inflatable sheep and a goat on wheels. The set is simple and not as lavish as the West End but just right for something that has to be packed up every week!

If I have any criticisms it was that the sing and dance-along finale, where they almost did the whole show again, went on a little too long, although it did give the wardrobe department the chance to showcase no less than THREE different styles of coloured coat. It was as if they couldn’t decide what to do in the production meeting so said “Hell – let’s just use all of them!”

But basically, the show is cheery and fun from start to finish – it’s Joseph – what more can I say?!

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