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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Adelphi

By Michael Leech

  Lee Mead

In its revivals over almost 40 years Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has always proved popular. From its first appearance in 1968 and partnered by writer Tim Rice, it remains one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's best works. Now that it seems he can't quite turn the trick of creating new hits he is busy in his magic kitchen with impressive revivals of great musicals. Certainly Evita keeps popping up and his production of a syrupy and compelling Sound of Music looks as if it will last for eons at the Palladium. This new even-more-spectacular Joseph at the Adelphi is basically a revival of a famed 1991 Palladium production with Jason Donovan. With a lot of good stuff to recycle, Joseph still seems brightly ever-young, and now fluffed up yet again, proves it is an eternal money-pulling teenager.

In the beginning, Joseph was created for students and school productions, and became a very good vehicle for them. It uses lots of kids and must have impelled many of them into searching for a stage career, poor little buggers. So now, as parents themselves, they bring along new little star gazers. (Seeing 50 sweetly singing kids framing the stage must make children in the audience even more eager for the glittering theatrical career.)

Originally the show lasted around 15 minutes. In the new one at the Adelphi the magic puffer has been applied (and I am not talking about a snake in a basket) and runs for almost two hours. Joseph may be quite an old show but it is in no way a breath of foul air. It is as brassy as a street band and busy as a hive of techniclor bees. Compellingly fresh too.

Trouble is this new retelling of a classic biblical tale of a doting Dad, a favored son and his envious brothers, tends to become less a simple charmer of a show than a coruscating circus. Webber can't bring on spangled horses and high trotting dogs of course, but he does what he can with sham camels and Egyptian deities. So busy is this mammoth show that you often don't know where to look. The supporting cast is bigger then ever, often in exotic Arabian dress including jewels, masks and wigs. The neat songs (not many but lively) zip across. You do get a large load for your ticket price, and the design team is to be especially commended for this voluptuous splash now set to light up the Strand for a limited run.

Casting is good and with Preeya Kalidas as an elegantly clad Narrator, Dean Collinson as the pop-up 'Elvis Presley Pharoah', and Stephen Tate as Potiphar adding power. It's a big cast of over 30. Everyone wants to know what the new Joseph is like? Well after another burst-of-publicity quest Lee Mead is surely not a mere displayer of male pulchritude, even if he doesn't wear much in his hot Egyptian world. He looks fresh as a fig, sings and relates well, and is warm-hearted. Yet there's not much sexiness here - and I am recalling way back when Gary Bond flashed his naughty-boy talents in the role.

Just having seen the film Piaf, I was reminded that slow clapping used to be a warning to singers to get their bums on parade. It is a bit annoying here and distracts, but then Webber has worked up a spectacle rather than a show. I wonder if this slapped up biblical Joseph inspires audiences beyond happy-clappy arousals to bring more sheep into the religious fold? Primitive patriarchs might look into it as a way of attracting converts. Well there's a thought: so is this Mycaenus of a producer getting royalties from God?


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