Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Review
(Posted on 28/11/17)
C.H.S. Superstars . . .(sing to the tune of another ALW biblical musical!)
Way, way back, many centuries ago, not long after Christleton began, the school put on its first production of “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." In that first production in 1982, a then young, English teacher conducted the performances, and here, thirty-five years later, he’s sitting at the back of that same school hall, being blown away by the brilliance of the talent and energy that the class of 2017, cast, crew and orchestra, bring to this rightly popular show.
If you don’t want to read to the end of the review to find out what I think, then, here it is: in my opinion, this is the best production, performance and staging of this show we have ever done, and I say that with no disrespect to the fabulous casts, crews and directors of the previous two productions. This one was significantly different in that, like many of those Hollywood biblical epics, it really seemed to have a cast of thousands!
Simon Phillips’ production stripped back the show to its principal element of narration. The set was a white open space, very much the blank canvas or page on which the performers wrote and drew the vividly coloured stories. Many of these are told in a fast-moving sequence, rather like a cartoon, but there was ample space for the profoundly moving moments in the show, such as Joseph’s despair in, “Close every door to me”.
I was sorry not to hear both Narrators, but in the performance I attended, Heather Bunning was taking the part and filling the role superbly. I loved how she appeared in a central spotlight at the opening. Her manner was completely engaging, and her voice had wonderful clarity. I heard that Zoya Ivanova showed tremendous warmth of character, empathy with everyone on stage, superb acting and an excellent connection with audience and children. Although the show is named after Joseph, the Narrator has the biggest part, as she is virtually never off stage. Both Heather and Zoya were excellent in weaving the narrative thread throughout the show and making the journey from song to song, seamless.
I liked the way there were two stands, either side of the stage filled with the Joseph Choir from Boughton Heath Academy and Cherry Grove Primary School on Friday night. During the week, Joseph Choirs were also made up of pupils from Christleton and Waverton Primary Schools. They were completely wrapped up in the action and responding well to all the events on stage. This left the rest of the stage area to be filled with everyone else. With the revelation that the live band was also on stage, at the back, there was a real physical focusing in on the action. The stage appeared to have huge depth as well as width.
The role of Joseph is central to the success of this show, and it requires a formidable combination of singing and acting ability. Michael Dean, quite simply, filled the stage with his presence and his truly beautiful voice. His consistently excellent performance was worthy of any professional production, here or in the West End. His Joseph was well characterised throughout his journey and he was believable in all the emotional changes from arrogance, to despair, showing excellent comic timing as well as brutal revenge and eventual compassion.
He was wonderfully supported by Jacob and his sons who sang and acted well, collectively and gave some excellent individual cameos. Jack Clerkin, as we know from previous productions, has natural comic timing and he extracted every humorous possibility out of his role as Jacob. Each of the sons was a completely believable individual and their interaction was great fun to watch. Several had their moments in the spotlight and I enjoyed Alex Haggart in Reuben’s cowboy lament, “There’s one more angel in heaven” where his manic switches from mock sadness to exhilarating joy was amusingly handled and extremely well characterised. Two other brothers who shone in their moments of glory were, Dan, played by Lucas Duthie and Gad performed by Jamie Moore. “Those Caanan Days” is one of my favourite songs in the show. I love its pastiche of the French cabaret song tradition and its melancholy. In this performance, forget melancholy, bring on an OTT performance by Lucas, like Maurice Chevalier on speed! (You might have to Google him!) He filled the stage with both his voice and antics and the whole song was played for laughs. In the “Benjamin Calypso”, Jamie, as brother Gad, showed both his acting and dancing abilities as well as his lovely voice. In singling these three performances out, I was equally impressed by Daniel Brown, Cal Rawson, Max Keepence, James Mizen, Osian Williams, Matthew Clough, Sam James and Will Lawrence as the other brothers who really worked well as a team, both in terms of their collective and individual performances.
The camel and snake were visual treats on the way to Egypt, Charlie Doyle and Alex Roberts were very well cast as Mr and Mrs Potiphar. The costumes and dancers created the perfect 1920’s American glitz and glamour – very “Gatsby”! It’s Mrs Potiphar’s “slinky dancing” (not the only snake on stage) that got Joseph into trouble and thrown into jail. The last two numbers of the First Act demonstrated the contrasting joys of this production. In the emotional heart of the show, Michael acted and sang, “Close Every Door” with consummate skill, projecting its emotions with real honesty.
The final song, “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” exploded with all the brightness of a 1960’s nightclub, alive with go-go dancers. The whole cast of singers and dancers were fully charged with exuberant energy which infected the audience, who, given half a chance, would have been dancing in the aisles.
It was a lovely idea to feature the Joseph Choir at the beginning of the second half and give them the chance to shine, too. It seems a little unfair, that when so many people carry the bulk of the show’s narrative, not least the hard-working Narrator, what many audiences look forward to and remember, is Pharaoh! They were not disappointed. Ryan Vint may not be either from Mississippi or Tennessee, but he sure made a great Elvis impersonator (uh, huh, huh!). He brought the King to life both with his voice and his moves and it was all done with a lot of cheeky humour.
Above all, this production showcased the talents of individuals in the context of a hugely supportive on and off-stage family. It was a company which gave space for some wonderful dancing, a sparkling hoedown to, “One More Angel in Heaven”, choral singing, not only from the Joseph Choir and cast, but also the female chorus.
The lighting was especially significant in that it echoed the action and songs on stage, provided a curtain-effect when turned on the audience to mask scene changes, and was used to great dramatic effect in static and follow-spots. The sound engineers coped extremely well with the volume of sound coming from the orchestra and cast on stage as well as getting the balance right in the solo numbers.
In this crazy cartoon of a show, the costumes suggested the different times, settings and musical influences like brilliant brush strokes on the canvass. The final reveal of the coloured coat was spectacular.
Throughout the show, Simon directed his superb orchestra from the back of the stage. It was totally appropriate that the musicians were on stage too, as they were essential to helping tell the story and the playing was of premium quality.
This show was all feast and no famine. The professionally produced programme was a fitting souvenir of another highly memorable experience. It asked, “Where are they now?” of the 2012 cast. Well, I can vouch that one member of the 1982 team was standing, shouting and clapping for all he was worth at the end, feeling enormously proud to be associated with the school and this magnificent production.
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