Review - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is set, according to Tim Rice's ever-concise and anachronistically playful lyrics, "way way back many centuries ago/ Not long after the Bible began."
Not quite so long ago, but well over a quarter of a century ago, Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's first musical collaboration Joseph was revived at the London Palladium in a 1991 production that starred Jason Donovan, then at the height of his fame, in the title role. Now the show is back at the same address, and in a luxury piece of casting, Donovan is back, too - but this time in the cameo role of Pharaoh, gyrating in an impersonation of Elvis Presley below a Las Vegas-style sign that reads, "Welcome to Fabulous Egypt".
That jaunty sense of fun permeates director Laurence Connor's constantly inventive new vision for the show, which is mostly a steamroller of pure joy and comic delights. It's, of course, a long way from how Joseph was originally far more modestly conceived as a 15-minute pop cantata for a South Kensington school choir in 1967. While that original spirit is more honestly maintained by Bill Kenwright's long-touring version - which still comes complete with a large on-stage choir of local school kids - this spectacular staging blows it up to a Palladium-sized spectacle that can rival this venue's now-annual pantomime in the scenic excess stakes, thanks to designer Morgan Large.
It's never exactly subtle, and you may miss the wit and ingenuity of the lyrics as they are swallowed in the laughter and occasional sheer mugging of Sheridan Smith's bouncy narrator, who also doubles up as Jacob and Potiphar's wife. But if there's a tendency to over-sell some of these moments, there's still the ever-buoyant tunefulness of this score to compensate, and Smith delivers her songs with punch and power when she dares to act them with more reserve.
Instead, it is newcomer Jac Yarrow who is the stand-out star in the title role. Yarrow, who will graduate from Arts Educational School in September and was spotted for this role when he starred in his final student show as the lead in its UK premiere of Disney's Newsies, has a bright sincerity and polished vocals to draw the audience's eyes and ears to him whenever he is centre stage. He received a spontaneous standing ovation on the first night at the end of his rendition of "Close Every Door"; but this is a performance that will open every door to him from here on in. (Donovan, now 51, is not intimidated by Yarrow's Joseph, who is a full thirty years younger than him, by actually showing more of his still-toned body than Yarrow does).
Choreographer Joann M Hunter is put to work expanding several numbers into dance breaks - including a tap-dance inserted into "Potiphar" and a spectacular first act finale remix for "Go, Go, Go Joseph".
This Joseph is all go, go, go - and although its only here at the London Palladium for a limited season, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it returning as a summer staple in future years.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tickets are available now.
"The real motor of the evening is Sheridan Smith, returning to the stage for the first time since 2016. As the narrator, the former Evening Standard Theatre Award-winner takes a series of hilarious cameo roles, belting out songs and hoofing through dance routines with a huge grin, a joyful figurehead for the ensemble of meticulously drilled adults and surprisingly charming children.."
Nick Curtis, Evening Standard, ★★★★☆
"Despite making his professional debut, [Yarrow is] so assured and relaxed. He smiles through all of the silliness that the kids inflict on him, like a really patient and fun big brother. He blows Close Every Door out of the park and leads some really tricky – really spectacular – choreography from Joann M Hunter."
Tim Bano, The Stage, ★★★★☆
"Is this a show or a cult? As I left, the entire audience was standing and swaying, singing and clapping. Everyone was ecstatic, thrilled to be here for this new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s first musical, which was first performed, at full length, in 1974."
Ann Treneman, The Times, ★★★★☆