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A CurtainUp London Review
Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
This is the second major West End production to be cast by the viewing public voting to eliminate contenders from a selection, some of whom are amateurs. Like Connie Fisher who was so cast as Maria in The Sound of Music, Lee Mead was actually already professional. He is a good choice, very handsome and very charming, as well as singing sweetly and strongly and having great stage presence.
The production itself was something of a surprise in as far as many of the elements are those we saw a few years back in Kenwright's previous West End production of Joseph. However on that occasion, I felt that the show was over extended with too many encores, something I didn't experience this time. My daughter chose to come with me fondly remembering the three times she had seen Joseph in the West End when she was still at primary school and she wasn't disappointed.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's music is openly derivative as the songs take on different genres from that rather studied 1920s syncopation of the Potiphar scenes to the Parisian bar songs of the starving in Canaan to Country and Western to Calypso and Elvis rock of the Pharaoh. The final number of the first act is a Disco type celebration of flower power and the Swinging Sixties. Tim Rice's lyrics still sparkle with wit and invention which raises the whole musical into a great comedy. It is a toe tapping evening with tunes that are easy and tend to stay with you.
As I have already said, many of the sets are either the ones seen some years ago or slightly reworked so that this production's recycling must be contributing to saving the planet. The costumes are partially fresh and rather raunchy in places ( the Potiphar women have flesh coloured body stockings with pertinent places concealed with an array of sequins). In the big Pharaoh scene the girls wear long golden rope "fish net" style robes and again the naughty bits are concealed by gold sequins. However the Joseph coat is the same one the children remember from primary school.
The brothers have flowing ringlets almost Hasidic style under turbans but with sunglasses concealing dark and angry eye makeup whereas their wives are veiled Muslim style, and the whole show has a Monty Pythonesque feel for the ridiculous. The wives wear head dresses made up of domestic equipment from a sewing machine to a mangle to a watering can or wine rack. Rather silly! The Potiphar scene is a designer's dream with the opportunity to express Art Deco style in black and white. The men wear white knee socks with patent leather shoes, Gandhi style dhoti shorts of swathed and draped silk with cream Indian jackets. There are plenty of visual jokes to complement the lyrical puns with sheep and camels thrown into the mix.
The performances are very polished. The children in the choir are very cute and rather earnest as they sing their little hearts out. Preeya Kalidas as the Narrator has a wonderful voice although at Size 0 she looks as though she too has been starving in Canaan. I loved Tom Gillies' adorable little Benjamin who we all wanted to save. Ultimately, this is Lee Mead's show. He is already a celebrity through the television series and deservedly has tremendous crowd support. The down side of this populism is a lack of reverence for theatre and a tendency of the audience to talk through the overture or whistle or sing the tunes or clap along but still, they are having a wonderful time.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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