It is sometimes easy to forget this old stager of a musical is actually still completely bonkers as two young upstarts threw the kitchen sink at their first work essentially inventing the rock musical.
Before pomposity took over Andrew Lloyd Webber proved he could effortlessly switch styles from straight rock to calypso and surreally a country and western number. They may be pastiches but they are so clever that feel utterly authentic. Throw in Tim Rice’s precociously witty lyrics, retelling the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis who fights his way out of slavery in ancient Egypt because he can interpret dreams, and you can see why this smash hit from 1973 has been performed by more than 20000 school and amateur groups.
The formula is pretty much bombproof as this big venue is rammed with fans young and old wallowing in Sean Cavanagh’s sumptuous set, and some big numbers including the show’s one stone cold showstopper, Any Dream Will Do. So good it was performed twice.
In an attempt to freshen things up former boyband star Jaymi Hensley makes his musical theatre debut as the slave turned ruler making the switch from the X Factor to the stage with great confidence. Unlike some other talent show migrants he did train at stage school deploying a really big voice that could have done with dialling back at times. There’s not much acting in this role - and to honest Joseph is such an obnoxious prig I’m not surprised his brothers sold him into slavery as I would have done - but Hensley does his best with the limited options, and has a big stage future.
Given the number of brothers Joseph has by necessity a big cast, and the male ensemble are on it all night tackling the occasionally cheesy choreography with great gusto, even when it didn’t quite move the story on. Their solos and harmonies lifted the countrified One More Angel in Heaven, barmy Parisian torch ballad These Canaan Days and a lively if dated Benjamin Calypso.
As this is a sung through musical the narrator is a central role making sure the audience can follow the story through the mayhem. Trina Hill reprises the role and her strong singing voice helps make some sense of the daft plot, with some lovely interplay with a well drilled junior choir provided by Heckmondwike’s Stuart Stage School. You’d have your sense of humour surgically removed not to enjoy Andrew Geater’s snake hipped rock ‘n’ roll romp as Pharaoh Presley.
As well being a legendary impresario Bill Kenwright has done plenty of directing for Lloyd Webber amongst other greats, and you can’t have produced as many big shows as he has without knowing a thing or two about how to mould a cast. He takes his young charges under his wing with a sure touch, although it could have gone down notch or two at times, but this may be a show where there is no top to go over.
A full house and a standing ovation dispels any cynicism about whether we need yet another tour of Joseph, but it makes you a little sad that the Lennon and McCartney of musical theatre no longer work together because when they did they made magic.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 15th June. To book www.leedsgrandtheatre.com or 0844 8482700
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 4th June 2019
North West End Rating: ★★★