On a wet, windy, wintry Wolverhampton midweek evening, there has to be a very good reason to go out. Fortunately, this production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice, provides just that reason.
Its performed inception dates back to 1968, but debuted in its full format in 1974, almost half a century ago. It is broadly contemporaneous with “Jesus Christ Superstar”, first staged in 1971, with whom it shares numerous musical motifs, although the latter is strictly Rock, while “Joseph” is pop, with a bit of Calypso, French Balladry, Charleston, Country and Western, and 50’s Rock n Roll thrown in.
It is not difficult to see why there have been well over 20,000 schools and amateur productions. The content is colourful, family friendly and upbeat, the music melodious, the lyrics nursery rhyme simple.
The trend of casting big names in lead roles, irrespective of talent, is thankfully waning.
The title role is played by Mark McMullan, a “Britain’s Got Talent” finalist. Popular appeal and a great voice is no guarantee of an ability to carry a flagship musical.
However Director Bill Kenwright knows a thing or two about spotting rising talent. That skill has not deserted him. McMullan is tremendous. He can sing, has presence, a powerful physique, and can wear tight trousers with a panache that would make Robert Plant blush.
His highlight comes in the penultimate number of the first Act, “Close Every Door”, beautifully performed, and delivered, a performance which will have had the casting scouts for “Les Miserables” twitching with excitement. So strong was the delivery, that the first Act finale, “Go, Go, Go Joseph”, a perfectly decent number, seemed routine and perfunctory by comparison.
Alexandra Doar co-stars as the narrator, telling the Biblical story of Joseph, from the Book of Genesis. The thirty plus children’s chorus is permanently seated on trestle perimeter terraced seating, serving as a stage audience for her tale, as well as vocal accompaniment. She is terrific, with a great voice, pizazz in abundance, and a cheery disposition which never fades.
Astonishingly, both Doar and McMullan are making their professional Musical debuts with this production – both are assured of a long career if they can maintain the levels of performance they gave on this night’s show.
Unusually for a musical, the cast comprises significantly more men than women. Gary Lloyd has been brought in to provide new choreography and succeeds in producing numerous eye-catching set pieces and movement. Including children, there are frequently over forty people on stage, sometimes around fifty, keeping the stage sharp is no easy task, but he succeeds admirably. Although this is not a dance show, it is very pleasing on the eye with the three Handmaidens working overtime to provide a splash of glamour.
The title song is the one everyone knows, and Kenwright ensures that it is not wasted, as it appears four or five times in various guises throughout the evening. At two hours running time, including interval, the show is an object lesson in not overstaying its welcome. It makes no pretence of great meaning, grandeur, or depth. Instead it offers wholesome entertainment, with a light touch and a smile. It thoroughly deserved the rousing applause at the end from a very well attended opening night, with subsequent performances until Saturday 29th February.