A new production of the fifty-year old musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice has been running through the summer at the Palladium – starring recent graduate Jac Yarrow in the lead role, with Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan the star names to pull in the punters.
This week Smith is ill with laryngitis, and Vanessa Fisher appears as the Narrator instead. The role has been substantially expanded to include Jacob, Potiphar’s wife, and more: for me, Fisher’s sunny personality and aptitude for clowning made this palatable.
The score remains hummable and pleasant, with the occasional (but familiar) clunky rhyme. With songs which act as parodies of genres such as country, the boulevard, calypso and Elvis, the simple Bible story moves along quickly. Audiences have little chance to be bored at a 100 minute show, although I still find the closing Megamix unneccessary and a bit dated.
Yarrow is quite a find. Josephs in the past (including Gary Bond, Darren Day, Jason Donovan, Stephen Gately, Philip Schofield, Donny Osmond and Lee Mead) have strived to make the part their own, and any new Joseph donning the coloured coat has large shoes to fill. Yarrow not only has the voice but also the personality to win us over. I predict a long and successful future for him.
I watched the show from a restricted view seat in the Royal Box, so the set design couldn’t be fully appreciated; however, there are no rising platforms out into the audience and no expanding train for Joseph’s coat. The backdrops are fairly simple and the action is largely centre stage.
As Joseph began as a show for children, it is only right that a young cast play a large part in the musical. Here, it isn’t just backup on Joseph’s two big solo numbers, but also we have children playing Potiphar, Benjamin, the Butler and Baker, the goat, and other parts, which works well.
Jason Donovan’s casting has an air of the stunt about it, but the Pharoah is equivalent to Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, a showy bit of fun with a bit of Vegas glamour. So Donovan curls his lip, wiggles his hips, and wears a cape embroided with “The King”. I’ve seen better Pharoahs who caught the Elvis vibe, but the lady who shouted out “I love you, Jason” clearly disagreed!
With strong direction from Laurence Connor, excellent choreography by Joann M Hunter, and some good supporting bits (brother Simeon, played by Michael Pickering, sings well in Those Canaan Days), this is a definite hit revival – and I can’t forget John Rigby and his orchestra, who are fabulous.
Joseph continues at the London Palladium. I wouldn’t recommend my seat as the restriction is frustrating, but there are a few pricing options out there for the remainder of the run, and there are whispers of a 2020 return.
Production photo credits Tristram Kenton.