Joseph's slick and subtly modern revival
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
Directed by Paul Warwick Griffin
Isaac Theatre Royal until May 14
Reviewed by Charlie Gates
This subtly modernised revival of a classic musical is slick and lively entertainment that sometimes shows its age.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was one of the first collaborations between lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The pair would go on to write a series of smash hit musicals in the 1970s and 80s that would redefine and dominate musical theatre.
Joseph was where it all began in 1970. It is a simple musical that has fun with the biblical tale of Joseph from the book of Genesis. The title character is the favourite of 12 sons and when his father gives him the titular blazer, his 11 brothers get jealous and plot his downfall.
That's right, it's not Joseph from the Jesus story. That comes later in the bible and doesn't feature a dazzling garment of any kind. Jesus kept his costumes pretty low key by all accounts.
To say that Tim Rice is a brilliant and witty lyricist seems redundant at this point. But it is worth restating that his lyrics are smart and playful. It's rare that rhyming couplets make you chuckle, but his do.
It also seems redundant to say that Andrew Lloyd Webber is very good at pastiche. But each song in Joseph is a note perfect pastiche of everything from reggae to country and Elvis to Parisian cafe songs.
Lloyd Webber also throws in a couple of show stoppers like Joseph's Close Every Door, performed with delicate power by the excellent Earl Gregory, and the Pharoah's brilliantly playful Elvis pastiche numbers, performed with tongue-in-cheek brio by Jonathan Roxmouth.
This touring revival production gives the show a subtly modern twist. It throws in some high energy, modern choreography, a bit of digital projection and a clap-along, concert party, megamix finale.
The updating also means that Joseph's 11 brothers have ripped jeans, toned arms and on-trend beards. They look like a Premier League team on some kind of training holiday. Or they look like the guy who gets the acoustic guitar out at a backpackers.
The songs and lyrics hold up well after 47 years, but there are signs the show is by now really quite aged.
For one, it is a total sausage fest, by which I mean every central character is male, except for the narrator.
Aside from the narrator, every female character is essentially treated like tinsel to cavort around the male characters. It is a problem with the original material that should be addressed by any modern revival, but in this case is left sadly unresolved.
This is a touring production on its 400th performance and the cast's familiarity with the material mean it is very slick, but this also means it lacks the crackle and nervous energy of a new production on opening night.
But overall this is an entertaining, well performed and impressively produced revival of a show that was the first spark of a collaboration that transformed musical theatre forever.