Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at The Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh this week (Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd March ) and, as usual, it is an odd mixture of pastiche and parody that somehow seems to work on a level that even after 50 plus years still entertains children and adults alike.
To be honest, I am never sure why this show works so well as it is full of racial and nationalistic stereotypes that no contemporary show being made now would ever get away with, and it is clearly displaying its age now and stands out so obviously as a remnant of the 1960s. Perhaps though, the show’s simplicity and reflection of the time in which it was conceived is now a big part of its charm.
Joseph is always an odd production and, like Joseph himself and his dreams, you have to be prepared to enter completely into the absurd and almost dreamlike world (where nothing is quite as it should be) that is this production when you enter the theatre. Here, in their first produced stage show, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber are taking lyrical and musical influences from many sources but, even here, the groundwork of everything that was to become their global theatrical successes is present.
Joseph as a show is so difficult to get right as it needs a cast with a light enough touch to keep its absurd imagery and production songs and limited dialogue flowing. Too light and it becomes farcical, too heavy and it just stops working as a show. But here, that touch is just right This stage show for me, also, always in the end comes down to three central characters – Joseph (Jaymi Hensley), Pharaoh (Andrew Geater) and Narrator (Trina Hill), and if these three are not working well together, then the show is doomed. Fortunately here, all three do work together very well, and like Joseph’s fate here, the future is bright for this production.
Here, Trina Hill as the Narrator has a gentle approach to this story, almost like reading to a class of children (let’s not forget to whom this show is aimed at for the most part) and Andrew Geater as Pharaoh/Elvis is obviously having so much fun with the absurdity of his character. I have to admit a liking for how the iconography of Elvis is used in this production with ancient Egyptian imagery blended into the design of that iconic white “Las Vegas” suit. Andrew Lloyd Webber has also used so many Elvis songs as references here, and Tim Rice is having just as much fun name-checking so many of them in his lyric.
The big surprise of this show though is Jaymi Hensley’s performance in his first ever major role. I completely missed (avoided) X Factor and Union J, so this review is based purely on his performance on stage tonight, and it is an impressive musical theatre debut. Jaymi obviously not only has the vocals to do the job, but knows how to emote those vocals to the lyric and music of the song, a pleasant change from a world where so many people think simply increasing in volume is the answer to everything. When required, Jaymi is also showing some real talent for the dramatic side of a role that any good musical theatre performer really needs to do the job. Given the right opportunities to learn his craft, and the right roles, Jaymi Hensley has the potential to become a serious force in musical theatre, and Andrew Lloyd Webber productions alone have so many opportunities waiting for him to explore.
Joseph is a production that, from its concept design, is one of simplicity and it can be staged from anything from a very basic school musical to the very good stage set and design that we had tonight. For the most part, dance production numbers were of a high standard too, but that French duet really does need sharpening up a lot – it is parodying a classic, and has a lot to live up to.
In a world full of chaos, Joseph is a return to much simpler days and a show that all the family can go to and enjoy. You know that there is going to be no crudity or offence here, and that is becoming an increasingly rare event in this world.
Review by Tom King