Full confession, this has never been one of my favourite shows. All a bit panto for me. So I was expecting to grin and bear it. Well, grin I most certainly did, but broadly and brightly from start to very finish. What a joyous treat this splendid new revival is. On opening night, I had Beverley Knight singing the entire score in the row behind me, Christopher Biggins chuckling away to my left and the entire audience cheering and chortling throughout. Somehow the show seems bigger, richer, deeper and even more ridiculous fun than ever. But the biggest shock of all was the spontaneous and thunderous standing ovation mid-way through the first act, not at the interval or the end of the show, for a complete newcomer. I’ve never seen anything like it. And, boy, was it deserved.
The tale of Jacob doting on his favourite son until the other eleven turn on him is a staple with school productions and rarely digs too deep, but director Laurence Connor has elevated the show with inventive staging, hilarity and unexpectedly heartfelt emotion.
New tricks abound, especially in the use of Sheridan Smith as the Narrator. Already gloriously gurning for laffs, she breaks new ground by tackling three more roles – adding broad comedy accents and dodgy beards to play Joseph’s father, the jailer and Potipha’s randy wife. “Still me,” she winks each time. Bless. And bliss.
Her energy and exuberance throughout are infectious, merrily breaking the fourth wall to pull the audience right into the show.
The other big star name is Jason Donovan, back in the show and another loincloth 18 years after his 2001 starring role. This time he’s upgraded to the Elvis, literally, of Eygpt. His Pharaoh is happily hammy and likely happily hammered, too. Huge fun.
The main loincloth role, though, is the showstopping and stealing leading man.
Forget Joseph’s prophetic dreams, Jac Yarrow is just finishing drama school and living a dream even he himself must struggle to believe. He somehow turned Any Dream Will Do into a real drama. It’s always been a pretty tune with a thundering finish, but Yarrow managed all that plus startling sensitivity. Elsewhere he has charm and cheekiness to spare.
He is ably supported by a uniformly excellent cast, including the clever use of the cute kid backing singers as four of Joseph’s (adult) brothers, Joseph’s cellmates and a rather precociously perfect Potifar. Michael Pickering shines as Simeon, unleashed on a rather marvellously reworked Those Canaan Days which segues from French torch song into riotous can-can. “I said Canaan” someone shouts. It’s pure frommage but joyously done.
Elsewhere camels ride bicycles, Pharaoh’s huge golden statues wield electric guitars and Joseph’s brothers tap dance in sandals. The staging is simple but with so many smart touches and endless visual gags, it is as entertaining as the performances themselves.
The music, itself, also somehow sounds fuller and hit emotional spots it has failed to reach in me before. Everything from One More Angel In Heaven to Go, Go, Go Joseph and Benjamin Calypso raised dee roof.
No, this isn’t the War and Peace of musicals, but it sensationally achieves what it sets out to do. I don’t know how many angels there are in Heaven, but there is a bright new star and brilliant new show in London’s West End.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium: www.josephthemusical.com