Lewis Baird, Contributing Critic - United Kingdom
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a musical which was originally a theatre in education production, which toured schools. Nowadays, it is known for being a juggernaut of a musical which is a huge asset to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s library of creative credits. The musical has toured for the best part of fifty years, so audiences in the UK are very familiar with the music and the story. Therefore, in 2019 there has surely been some work done to the new UK touring production, to make this musical accessible to a new generation of younger audiences. To find out, I attended the press evening, in Scotland’s answer to Broadway, the Edinburgh Playhouse.
The story follows Joseph, favourite son of Jacob, whose eleven brothers sell him as a slave due to their jealousy of Joseph receiving a technicolor coat from their father. This sends Joseph on an emotional rollercoaster of a journey, battling for his freedom, while his father Jacob misses his son.
Jaymi Hensley absolutely defies the audience's expectations and gives a superb performance. He gives so much depth and completely energizes the character, utilizing every moment on stage to grasp the audience. This performance is fresh, emotional and show stopping. Jaymi’s vocals are simply jaw dropping, the range he has in his voice is very impressive, with its contemporary tones, which shift at some points to a rather operatic style. In previous productions I have seen of this musical, Joseph is a very beige character and it’s down to the narrator to hold the show together, however, in this case, Jaymi is completely in control, giving the strongest performance in the cast. It really is great to see this character in a new light. Plus, after this tour I can definitely see a place in the west end or other touring musicals for Jaymi as his talent is simply outstanding.
Trina Hill is delightful as the narrator; her personality and warmth makes the character so accessible to the audience. Mainly the children in the audience, they seemed fixated on her performance, as she acts as almost a person of comfort to them in rather sad or distressing scenes. Rarely in the theatre do I get goosebumps, however, whilst Trina is singing, when she belts her notes, it’s hard not to with her astounding range and power. This is a lovely performance, Trina lifts the energy, whilst also delivering the character's purpose, as a device to tell a story, plus breakdown the barrier between the audience and the action taking place on stage.
Henry Metcalfe gives a good performance of Jacob, there is definitely a little bit more vulnerability to this portrayal, which I think works very well at points, showing a broken heart, and also a man longing to see his son again. Henry also plays Potiphar; I feel that there was certain comedy missing from this role. I can remember this character being hilarious at points in the previous production I seen, however, within this portrayal, there is a more serious approach, which also works, but perhaps some more comedy would have been good to see.
Andrew Geater is hilarious as the Presley wannabe, Pharaoh. His impression is great and it definitely stays true to the original concept of this character, while also owning the vocal side of the performance.
This production has a pretty large ensemble who all donate energy and vocal accompaniment, while also dealing with the madness of transforming into different characters. The ensemble are as follows, Lewis Asquith as Simeon/Butler, George Beet as Napthali, Arthur Boan as Reuben, Callum Connolly as Dan, Alex Hetherington as Benjamin, Mikey Jay-Heath as Judah, Matt Jolly as Gad, Jamie Jukes is a swing, Amber Kennedy as Mrs Potiphar/Handmaiden, Corey Mitchell as Levi, Eve Norris as Handmaiden, Gemma Pipe as Handmaiden, Joshua Robinson as Zebulan and Ed Tunningley as Issachar/Baker.
There was also, as always, a large children's choir, who vocally sounded fantastic, however, unfortunately the children on stage did not look like they wanted to be there and seemed confused.
In terms of creative team, of course you have the legendary Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber writing music for this musical. Their music for “Joseph” features some of the most iconic numbers in musical theatre history, and as much as they are played, audiences everywhere love them! Musical director Rich Morris fantastically remasters these musical numbers and makes them feel almost cinematic the way they are performed. With the only slight issue of the band drowning out the actors while they are singing Piano to build up to Forte. Bill Kenwright produces and directs this new touring production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. It is clear he has tried his hardest to contemporize this musical to make it more accessible for a new generation.
However,I personally believe that this touring production is very similar to the production of this musical I seen back in 2008. I don’t believe the musical has evolved with the times, it’s mainly to do with the fact that the piece its self has not been re-worked. If this is still a production for children, then as well as provide a fantastic cast, the director needs to look into possibilities of permission to change parts of this show, as young children nowadays are simply not going to understand the Elvis Presley references when Pharaoh comes onto stage (depressing I know), therefore, there needs to be a discussion had with Webber and Rice to see if there can be changes made to that character. It is clear from the audience members that are seeing the show, that it is more an older audience who have interest in it, and influence the younger members of their family to come, which is great.
But, the full purpose of this show originally was theatre in education, so it should be a show that is popular mainly with children. And I personally believe that this show should go back to its roots, the creative team should explore how to re-work it for the children of 2019. I adore how fun this musical is, and believe that it could have a very successful run, only if it was reworked. And this may be done by Rice and Webber for the London Palladium run of “Joseph” this summer, which would mean that Kenwright could take this adapted script for future touring productions. There are also several issues with the direction of this production, including issues with the positioning of actors being messy, continuous blackouts which are not needed plus completely drop the audience’s energy.
The main limitation that Bill Kenwright faces is the lack of performance that is left with Sean Cavanagh’s design. The design does look very colourful, plus guaranteed to make a child’s mind race, with the two sets of stairs making almost a pyramid, which is surrounded by palm trees, brick walls, and at the top there is a starry backdrop. However, some set and costume seem rather outdated, which I feel is a complete contrast to the modern twist the cast are delivering. And I think this also holds back the overall revamp of the musical that Kenwright was going for. However, Nick Richings’ impressive lighting design definitely compliments and lifts the space, making it look more attractive while blasting the stage and theatre with the fabulous technicolor we all expect when seeing this show. The small space also limits Gary Lloyd with his new choreography, taking over from the original choreographer Henry Metcalfe. However, all movement segments are definitely well stylized and Gary breathes a fresh creative outlook into this musical.
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a musical which is for people of all ages, it is a nostalgic trip for anyone who saw it as a child, and even though this production does hold a lot of similarity to productions past, it also features a lot of elements which give the audience a new vision for this almost fifty-year-old musical. The main element of that being the extremely talented lead, Jaymi Hensley, who is guaranteed to delight audiences with his performance.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs until Saturday 23rd March 2019 at the Edinburgh Playhouse, click the link below for details of other tour dates and how to get tickets: