It’s fifty years since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice basically invented the rock opera with their biblical epic Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Since then, this enduring family friendly show has been almost constantly on the road entertaining generations of fans who love Joseph’s journey back to his family and redemption.
It’s a show full of classic Lloyd Webber/Rice tunes like Any Dream Will Do and Close Every Door, and over the years Joseph has been played by Philip Schofield, Donny Osmond, Andy Gibb, Stephen Gately, Darren Day and famously Jason Donovan, who is taking on the role of Pharoah in the latest touring production.
The latest UK tour comes straight from the London Palladium where the show was revived and reinvented to critical acclaim.
That London Palladium run made a star of Jac Yarrow who took the lead aged 21, and as the tour heads towards Leeds Grand he talked to our Yorkshire Editor Paul Clarke about the enduring appeal of Joseph.
Famously you won this iconic role when still at drama school.
In my third-year show at drama school I was lucky enough to play the lead in Newsies and our producer Michael Harrison came to see the show, not even to watch me, but to see if there was something he could do with the show. He was already starting to think about who would play Joseph and said to me would you want to come in and audition for Joseph. I thought he meant to be in the ensemble, or understudy Joseph, but never in my wildest dreams did I think he would cast me for the role.
So, what happened next?
It seemed like a whirlwind kind of week where I auditioned for the show about five times and some of my auditions were about three hours long. It was very intense with our director Laurence Connor and JoAnn Hunter, our choreographer, and I didn’t hear anything for the longest time, about three weeks. Normally when you don’t hear anything it’s a no. Then weirdly enough on my 21st birthday Michael called my agent, and said we want Jac to play the part, and it was just the wildest thing.
Once you won the role it must have been an incredibly surreal time?
The next day I was driven to Warner Brothers Studios, where they were filming the Cats movie to have a singing lesson, and Andrew Lloyd Webber was there. The ball started rolling, and it didn’t stop, and it is this whole whirlwind three years on, and it’s been the most rewarding thing. How many bucket list things can come true with one job?
Most actors never get a sniff of an Olivier Award nomination, but you made the shortlist with your very first show aged 21.
With things that it was like a childhood ambition of mine as I’ve always wanted to be in this industry, and to be in this career. There was no other option for me and to then get nominated for that and feel like the industry was saying you’re good enough, we do accept you. It’s something I’m still trying to get my head around.
The performers who have played this role reads like a who’s who of musical theatre so that must have played on your mind as you pulled on the loincloth?
That was a pressure initially, but it’s kind of nice to be able to be a non-celebrity and no one knew, so I can say this is what I have to offer, and this is what I can bring to the table. Luckily, I wasn’t booed off the stage, and nobody threw anything, so it’s cool to join the Jason brotherhood with people like Jason and Donny Osmond, who are people I’ve looked up to through my whole life.
But you are also one of the youngest to play Joseph.
It’s definitely a fresh take on it as Laurence, our director, is so experienced, and he encouraged me to bring my own Joseph to the table. and not to be like Jason or Donny because I would have failed miserably trying to be somebody else. He encouraged me to be myself and have fun with it. Jason kind of said just do you and it will be great, don’t try to be anything you’re not, that was his advice to me.
What’s it like working with Jason who has become so beloved by British audiences?
He’s the best, he’s so funny. Jason’s the kind of person if you’re going to do a musical you want someone like him around because he is constantly laughing and joking. He knows that we’re not doing Shakespeare, we’re doing Joseph, but it’s nice for him to be in the show as if you think of Joseph you think of him.
There’s a link to the show’s past as Linzi Hateley is reprising her role as The Narrator as like you she was nominated for an Olivier at 21 way back in 1991.
Linzi had to approach it in a completely different way to how she did it in 1991 as it’s a very different production, and she’d be first to say that. She brings a classic West End approach to it as she is quintessential West End royalty, and she is bringing that star quality. She’s very wholesome, she has amazing energy, she’s full out.
How is Linzi performing this pivotal role in the show this time round?
This production is for the Narrator harder than it was in 91 as she is doing choreography with the ensemble, she’s running round with the kids and the kids are incorporated into our productions in terms of moving the set around and playing different characters. She carries the whole thing on her back.
This show is attracting audiences after a staggering fifty years so having played Joseph what do you think is the magic ingredient in its longevity?
I think it’s the music. Every day we go to stage door and people say I did this show when I was at school, or my mum used to sing the songs to me, so everyone has some kind of connection. Some people come to the show and say ‘oh my god, I had no idea that song was from Joseph’. You look at songs like Any Dream Will Do, and we have Jason Donovan to thank for that as he had that massive number one hit.
And over the past five decades this show has been almost constantly on the road entertaining generations so what can people expect from this story?
Our production is completely different than any others they have seen before because what people are seeing is the London Palladium production. If people have seen Joseph on tour they think they know what to expect, but it’s a completely different energy. So, it’s all new sets, all new costumes, it’s so lavish.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at Leeds Grand Theatre from July 12th to July 23rd. To book 0113 2430808 or visit https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/joseph/