Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (London Palladium)

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 i the lead role, with Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan the star names to pull in the punters.

The company of Joseph
The company of Joseph

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.

Jac Yarrow as Joseph
Jac Yarrow as Joseph

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.

My restricted seat view from Box B
My restricted seat view from Box B

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!

Jason Donovan and company of Joseph
Jason Donovan and company of Joseph

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.

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The King and I (London Palladium)

A glorious revival of one of the greats of the American Songbook has taken residence at the Palladium, in a perceptive production directed by Bartlett Sher.

The leading principals, Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara, have enviable chemistry and an ear for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious score and lyrics.

With the original book draft plundered for new and apposite political references, and culturally appropriate casting, this show obtains a sense of new relevance, especially in the Act Two showpiece The Small House of Uncle Thomas (“written by a woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe”).

This fits the narrative of the Burmese girl, Tuptim (Na-Young Jeon, in a mature and heartbreaking performance) torn from her home and lover in Burma and sold in sexual and emotional slavery to the King.

This King, though, struggles with the traditions which revere him close to a deity, allow his subordinates to grovel in supplication, and give him many wives and children; and a thirst for modernity and knowledge.

Into this mix comes Anna Leonowens, a widowed schoolteacher, who comes to teach the children (and it transpires, some of the wives too) about Western facts and ways.

How much influence the real Anna had on the Siamese King is up to question, but in this fictionalisation a grudging respect and affection develops within the pair, the curious King and the feisty Anna.

Head wife Lady Thiang understands that change is necessary, but also understands her husband – Naoko Mori’s rendition of Something Wonderful is as touching as O’Hara’s Hello Young Lovers as an anthem of knowing devotion.

This is a sumptous production with a talented supporting cast of youngsters and an excellent orchestra. Don’t miss.

The King and I continues at the London Palladium until the 29th September 2018.

Honeymoon in Vegas (London Palladium)

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra presented a special concert version of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas: The Musical’ last night at the London Palladium, conducted by the composer, Jason Robert Brown.

honeymoon

Based on the 1992 film, this musical teams a rather silly story with an old-fashioned but punchy score from Jason Robert Brown, who also penned the lyrics, which are sometimes clever but now and again straying into the area of corn (a ballad ‘Out of the Sun’ provoked giggles across the auditorium with its SPF references and it didn’t quite hit the funny/touching vibe I suspect the song should have).

The book by Andrew Bergman is slight but keeps the action moving, and even in a concert version, images of Vegas showgirls and parachuting Elvii (a definite showstopping number referencing the stance and vocal inflections of the King) are effortlessly conjured up.

Arthur Darvill’s Jack opens up proceedings with one of those delightful list songs, ‘I Love Betsy’, which references all the things his girlfriend likes (“she likes hockey, no, I swear / she likes guys with thinning hair’) while celebrating his love for her.  He puts the song across well, with good engagement with the audience while acting out the text.  His singing was a nice surprise as well, with an old-timer charm.

Betsy is played by Samantha Barks who is slinky and playful, but stronger in her solo numbers (especially ‘Betsy’s Getting Married’ which sizzles and fizzes) than in her duets with Darvill.  Having said this, the whole cast feel more relaxed and comfortable in their roles and in the concert format as the show progresses, and everyone essentially does a good job.

Gangster sleazeball Tommy, who sees in Betsy a resemblance to his dead wife, is played well by Maxwell Caulfield, who makes up for a lack of singing ability with the right characterisation of a wealthy man who thinks he can buy happiness but eventually knows when he’s been bested – by Betsy!  Rosemary Ashe does her best to steal scenes as the ghost of Jack’s mother, while Simon Lipkin is both the Bublé-like lounge singer and the hip-shaking leader of the flying Elvises. 

This show, directed by Shaun Kerrison, is a lot of fun, with the kind of music that makes you want to tap your feet and click your fingers, while the songs move on the action just as they did in the golden age of stage musicals.

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, now in its second full year, is packed with excellent musicians who can do anything from put on the jazz to provide a beautiful melody.  Their vision is to have fun with music, and also to develop new professional players, and they do both with aplomb.

Thanks to Premier PR for arranging this night out.

Cats (London Palladium)

It’s been twenty-five years since I last saw this show live, at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool in 1988 or 1989, and I have very strong and happy memories of the musical.  I also have a soft spot for both the Original London Cast Recording and the film version which appeared in the late 1990s.

Some tweaks have been made to make the show more up-to-date – a new tap sequence for Jenny-Any-Dots’ beetle tattoo is fun, but the switch of Rum Tum Tugger from sexy Tom to annoying bling-laden rapper is a mis-step.

‘Cats’ is largely about the dancing, and it doesn’t really need star names to keep it going – there are some amazing young performers showcased here in the various solos (although with five or six understudies on this afternoon I can’t say for sure who was playing Jemima (I think Alice Jane), Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, Skimbleshanks (Dane Quixall?), Bombalurina (Cassie Clare) and others – if anyone knows for sure or needs to correct assumptions here please do).  I do want to give a nod to Paul F Monaghan who works hard as both Bustopher Jones and a very enjoyable Gus/Growltiger, Callum Train as Munkustrap and Joseph Poulton who is a dazzling Mr Mistoffelees.

The pre-opening buzz has all been about the Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, who plays the supporting role of Grizabella, and who has the ‘big number’, Memory.  Although she can certainly hit that big note, I felt her voice was lacking in body in the rest of her role, and frankly, her vocal style doesn’t do it for me.  I’ve been brought to tears before by this cat and her song, but not here.

The rubbish dump set might not revolve as it did in the old days, but the cats climb, stretch and emote as they ever did, and the ensemble singing in the numbers ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, ‘Old Deuteronomy’ and ‘The Ad-dressing of Cats’ is excellent.  The special effects might not look as spectacular as those in other shows – yes, Wicked, I am looking at you – but the hydraulics, trapeze work and lightning effects are fun.

I would recommend this show to new and old fans alike, and those of you who have feline friends at home will find yourself smiling in recognition at the antics portrayed within this show.

Scrooge (London Palladium)

Back in 1992, in Manchester, we saw the Leslie Bricusse musical ‘Scrooge’ in its first transfer to the stage, adapted from the Albert Finney film. It starred the late Anthony Newley, a big personality with a big voice, who was endearingly grumpy in his nightgown and cap on his way to redemption.

Fast forward twenty years and it is time to make my acquaintance with this show again, this time starring that performer of perennial cheerfulness, Tommy Steele. No-one has made more appearances at the London Palladium than this chirpy chap, and of those appearances, one previous triumph was that of Ebenezer Scrooge himself. And now he’s back …

Early November may not be the perfect time for such a seasonal show to make its return to the London stage, but in its joie de vivre and Christmas spirit, ‘Scrooge’ achieves the impossible – to give the audience a light heart and a smile with which to go back out into the world. To critique Steele’s performance would be pointless, as he has been playing much the same part for years; even when he’s grumpy before the ghosts of Marley and others arrive there is a twinkle in his eye.

Interestingly, Marley was played by Barry Howard back in 1992 and again now. He has a different wig, and shows more of a stately age than two decades ago, but he’s still very good.