Lord Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat arrives at the Adelphi Theatre (replacing Lloyd Webber’s own Evita), with a huge critic-proof box office advance and much hype, all due to the hit BBC1 programme ‘Any Dream will Do’, where the public got the chance to cast the title role. The winner, Lee Mead, was greeted with ecstatic applause and screams when he first appeared, and two standing ovations either side of the ubiquitous ‘mega mix’ at the close of the show (an even more poppy rehash of the show’s tunes, usually bolted onto feel-good shows to get the audience dancing in the aisles). Mr Mead has an easy charm and winning smile perfect for Joseph, and he can sing more than adequately well.
Calling the audience ebullient would be an understatement, the air was full of shrieking and hyperventilating from kids young and old; rhythmic clapping, applauding and cheering over the actors singing, and general chatter was the order of the day (‘that’s the choir’, ‘that’s the narrator’, ‘that’s him, Joseph!’ were the helpful insights of the people two rows in front of me).
Apart from the entertainment emanating from the stalls, the show is pretty attention grabbing too. It’s a gaudy and glitzy (in the nicest possible sense) production, based on Stephen Pimlott’s 1991 staging and overseen here by Nicholas Treherne and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. It is certainly better than the wobbly and novelty production that last graced the London stage (a couple of years ago at the New London Theatre). The trouble is, I often felt that the simple story of Joseph, his 11 brothers and his eventual rise to power in Egypt is overdone. The music is light, ranging from parody calypso to parody country and western (Lloyd Webber and lyricist Sir Tim Rice love their parodies), which are jolly enough, and a couple of memorable ballads (Any Dream Will Do, Close Every Door to Me) in the more traditional style, sung by our hero. The problem for me came when Pharaoh appears, he also happens to be an ancient Egyptian Elvis impersonator, and his rather strained and overlong parody of The King didn’t keep me amused for very long (also, will many 10 year olds know who Elvis is to the extent that they get the jokes?).
The singing and dancing is of good quality (the ensemble numbers are well done and amusing), and the show mostly moves along apace, with the next joke just around the corner. It’s certainly not a deep show, or one of great musical quality, but it is fun, and you would find it very difficult not to enjoy the vivacious evening (though I draw the line at mega mixes).