Friday, January 27

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Birmingham Hippodrome

If you have an idle moment, Google Mike Holloway. Like Doctor Who, you always remember your first Joseph. He was mine. Pre-Covid, pre-Millenium, pre-pretty much everything, Mike Holloway was the Joseph of the eighties. He was preceded by Jess Conrad who is now in his eighties. On and off I’ve been watching Joseph since 1985 and the show forever proves itself joyous, wholesome and nice. Very, very nice. Starting as a short oratorio for school kids way back in the late sixties, it evolved and grew into a neat and hugely popular stage production from Bill Kenwright (starring the aforementioned JC). Then Andrew Lloyd Webber took it back and mounted an extraordinary production at the London Palladium with Jason Donovan in the title role and now Donovan once more dons Egyptian garb and finds himself strutting to familiar tunes but not this time as the eponymous hero – as Pharaoh. And he makes a fine go of the role usually played as Elvis, but with Donovan reimagined as an ageing, one time teen idol, who can still hit the notes but may have trouble with the more demanding choreography. It’s a joy to watch.

Joseph’s current re-generation takes the form of freshly minted Jac Yarrow who seems to have leap from the wings eager to play and scamper and relishes every moment, but do not be distracted by those matinee idol good looks. His rendition of “Close Every Door” is a powerful ballad performed with strength, gusto and sincerity.

©Tristram Kenton

But the undoubted star of the show is Alexandra Burke as the Narrator who trips and skips merrily across the stage like your favourite primary school teacher keen to share a bible story with you. She has undoubted vocal prowess, and some moments are shimmeringly beautiful but casting the star as the narrator does skew the emphasis off the story a tad. It also means Joseph (the title role) takes third place in the bows. But that is a minor quibble.

The orchestra blasts the show through, and the orchestrations resist the pull of brash parodies of previous productions and, instead, offer us nuanced pastiche. Ben Cracknell’s lighting is a fabulous (especially in the Egyptian scenes), the set and costumes are tonally spot on, the sound is clear and crisp, and it all received its statutory standing ovation. But I have one concern…

Doubtless this will be written off as a post-lockdown cost-cutting decision, but I was surprised how reduced the cast size was. Alexandre Burke doubled as both Potiphar’s wife and Jacob. The latter was a neat, surprising comic twist at first but meant the reunion scene (on which the entire mortal pivots) lost its gravitas and sincerity. I guess this could also be argued as giving the audience full value from their star. Fair enough. But audiences could feel a little miffed to see the kids (albeit hugely talented one) playing many major adult roles. Potiphar, the Jailer, the Baker, the Butler and, most surprisingly, four of the brothers are all on the shoulders of the youngsters. Luckily, a Joseph audience brings a huge amount of good will to proceedings and any misgivings are swept under the dreamcoat in the avalanche of joy, laughter and fun the show has been evoking for over fifty years.

“Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamboat” is on at Birmingham Hippodrome until 16th April. Go, go, go see it!

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 6th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★