Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Orchard Theatre

When I was 10, my parents took me to see Joseph at the London Palladium. To say I was excited is something of an understatement; for reasons I won’t go into, I was a little bit in love with the star, Phillip Schofield, and it was also – as far as I can remember – my first ever West End show. Ever since, my mum’s enjoyed reminiscing about how I was entranced from start to finish, and so began a lifelong obsession with theatre that led eventually to this very blog.

So it’s fair to say Joseph is a show that holds a pretty special place in my heart. Any chance I’ve had to see it again since has brought back those memories of childlike glee – and Bill Kenwright’s touring production, starring X Factor winner Joe McElderry, is no exception. By the time the curtain rose at the Orchard last night, I was practically bouncing up and down in my seat like the excited ten-year-old of 25 years ago, much to my sister’s amusement. (I wasn’t the only die-hard fan in the audience, either; partway through I noticed someone in the front row with pom-poms.)

For those not familiar with the show, it’s based on the biblical story of Joseph and his 11 jealous brothers. When their dad Jacob surprises his favourite son with a fancy new coat, his brothers beat him up and sell him into slavery (as you do). After various ups and downs, Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams brings him fame and fortune, and leads him eventually to an emotional reunion with his father and guilt-stricken brothers.

Once the show got underway, it all came flooding back: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s familiar tunes that take us on a world tour of musical styles; Tim Rice’s witty lyrics, including jokes that I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have understood the first time around; the big, colourful sets with charmingly basic props that put you in mind of a (very) high-budget school play (in the absence of the much-loved turntable from previous productions, Jacob’s inflatable sheep were probably my favourite bit, not least because they needed a bit of help from the cast to stand upright). It also turns out I still know all the words to every song, including the 29 colours of Joseph’s coat, in order – I dazzled my sister with this piece of useless trivia before the show started, and she did a very good job of looking impressed.

Speaking of being impressed, I’d heard good reports of Joe McElderry’s Joseph, and he didn’t disappoint, with powerful vocals and an easy charm. He’s said in interviews that Close Every Door is one of his favourite moments, and it shows – his version is up there with the best I’ve heard. Britain’s Got Talent star Lucy Kay makes a confident musical theatre debut as the Narrator, and Ben James-Ellis has us all rocking and rolling as the Pharaoh; as always, I wished we could have seen more of him.

Photo credit: Mark Yeoman

Knowing a show inside and out can have its disadvantages, and ironically being a super fan probably made me more critical than most… but even so my complaints are few and far between. A couple of the musical numbers, including the one that closes the first act, feel like they’ve been cut short – an odd decision given it’s not a very long show anyway. Act 2 has, for me, lost a little bit of its humour, and one or two of the best one-liners (“it takes a man who knows no fear to wrestle… with a goat” still makes me giggle every time) were drowned out by the music and I suspect anyone who didn’t know the lyric would have missed it.

But I’m nitpicking. Joseph is, as ever, a fun, colourful and brilliantly bonkers night out for the whole family. It may be 25 years since I first saw it, and incredibly almost 50 since it was written, but one thing’s for sure – this is a show that will never really get old, and I have no doubt I’ll still be bouncing excitedly in my seat and embarrassing family members another two decades from now. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at the Orchard Theatre until 11th February.

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