Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat | Review
*(yes, ‘color’ is spelt the American way)
The Grand Opera House, Belfast • Tuesday 06 June ’17
By Conor O’Neill
The Grand Opera House is thronging, packed to the gills, not a seat free in the house. To the left of me is a mum with her three kids all between the ages of nine to twelve or so. In the seats ahead there’s grey, blonde, brunette, ginger and every colour of hair common to the human race. Quite apt considering we’re all squeezed in to see one of the longest running and least forgettable musicals of the last 50 years, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Today’s classic started as a 15 minute pop cantata in 1968 and slowly evolved into one of the West End and Broadway’s favourite ‘dahlings’. Seen by over 15 million and produced by an estimated 20,000 amateur groups, another 1,000 plus guests sit with baited breath waiting for curtain up. Beforehand, and like the Wizard of Oz, a booming voice welcomes us to the show before stating, ‘Mobile phones or recording capabilities were never mentioned in the book of Genesis, and so I wish to advise you to turn yours off now!’
And the show begins. A titillating intro without a note sung sets the scene as a veil hangs over a backdrop of hieroglyphics and a pharaoh’s head. A strikingly beautiful woman walks on to centre stage. Narrator, Lucy Kay, is the spit of nearly every Hollywood movie depiction of Cleopatra. Thankfully she’s not just blessed with good looks, the gods were overly generous and gifted her a pitch perfect singing voice that must go double octave at least. She, and Joe McElderry get the most individually sung songs, and appropriately so. Plucked from obscurity by the X-Factor way back in 2009, McElderry has since been voted as one of the best Josephs in the show’s history.
The plot is Biblical, in both senses of the word. Jacob has 12 sons, Joseph being his favourite. This, as most kids of Northern Ireland – famed for our illustrious fertility – knows, leads to jealousy. Scene one introduces the ole man and the tribe. ‘Jacob’s Sons’ and ‘Joseph’s Coat’ kick off the proceedings as only a Lloyd Webber show can, with truly musical pomp and layers of glitter and ferocious footwork . It would be a shame not to start as you mean to go on. Many of the audience tonight are obviously not first-timers as they lip-synch every word of every song – not that they overcome the vocals of the cast and the volume of musical director Danny Belton’s orchestra.
As envy grows the brothers hatch a plot to get rid of the favourite one and sell him as a slave. I haven’t a Bible to hand, but apparently the devious 11 claim to Jacob that Joseph was mauled by a goat and died a hero saving all of their lives. If that doesn’t seem likely, then the baritone of a singing camel and Joseph’s new master, the Pharaoh dressed and sung by an Elvis impersonator, will compound the sheer audacity of Webber and Rice’s original portrayal of the Good Book’s tale. ‘Poor, Poor, Joseph’, ‘One More Angel In Heaven’, ‘Potiphar’, ‘Close Every Door’ and ‘Go, Go Joseph’ all get an airing and bring raptures before an interval. Tim Rice must get a mention, his lyrics are the stuff of musical magic, “Joseph, I’ll see you rot in jail, what you’ve done is beyond the pale” is just a taster of his mastery of rhyme. The audience is half knackered by this stage. Only the scriptures must know how the cast feel.
The second half sees a group of 34 kids, apparently all from drama schools around Ireland, sing us into the second half. Jailed and beyond hope, Joseph can only reminisce on the good old days. Thankfully he’s a dreamer, the theme running through the entirety of the show, where literally ‘any dream will do’. Pharaoh has a problem, he dreams of seven ears of corn and seven cows. Fellow slave on the boat from Canaan to Egypt, the butler, remembers Joseph’s knack of dream interpretation and Pharaoh sends for the loin-cloth-clad prisoner.
Enter our Vegas era Elvis/Pharaoh and his harem of scantily dressed adorers (children cover your eyes). Redeemed by his talent, the loin-cloth turns to gold-lacquered trousers and his luck changes forever. I’ll not spoil the ending. The second half delivers more than the first, ‘Poor, Poor, Pharaoh’ echoes Joseph’s earlier lament, ‘Those Canaan Days’ sways and soothes, while the ‘Bejamin Calypso’ reveals more of Lloyd Webber’s ear for musical magnificence. Throw in a good ole country hoe-down, spectacular pyrotechnics, the brilliant direction of Bill Kenwright and the discipline of choreographer Henry Matcalfe and you’re approaching musical mastery.
The cast are too numerous to mention by name, but each and every one of them are brilliant and all involved in the 15 minute medley that has the GOH on its feet clapping and dancing like Evangelicals touched by the Holy Spirit.
Tickets are going like hot cakes. To book yours phone the box office on 02890 241919 or visit www.goh.co.uk Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs until Saturday 10 June.