Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has travelled back to Cardiff’s Millennium Centre after a three week tour break. I will be honest that I have not seen a production of Joseph live since I was very little. I remember seeing the show in Cardiff’s New Theatre with my mum as, I believe, Lewis who came fourth in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV quest for the new London Joseph, which discovered Lee Mead, was starring in the tour. However, this show was actually also my first experience of seeing an understudy as the actor who originally played Benjamin had to take over for Joseph and he was incredible. Beyond this, my main relationship with this show comes through the Donny Osmond and Maria Freedman film which was on repeat in my household ever since I can remember and still is today. So, I was coming to this show as a fan of the original production created by Webber and the creative team and know the material very well throughout the film but very curious to see it transferred back to the stage.
Jaymi Hensley stars in the tour as Joseph himself. Personally, I haven’t watched the X Factor properly for years, but the marketing around this show is going to ensure that you do not miss the fact that Hensley was part of Union J. Hensley has a very good, strong voice which is very well suited for a role so heavily reliant on the vocal staples of musical theatre. His belt during the final choruses of the show’s most famous songs easily fills the room and fits in well with even the sung dialogue and comedic moments. There really is a lovely powerful musical voice there. The issue comes when the marketing takes over during the show. There are some alterations to segments in the show, the most noticeable coming during ‘Close Every Door’, in which riffs are added into the songs which instantly took me out of the show as they sounded as if they had been taken from a pop song and I was aware of who I was watching and the creative decisions made which led to this. Personally, I think they should have left the Union J member label in perhaps the most vital of marketing but should have simply let Hensley sing the show as the show is designed for a musical theatre voice because he can do it, and do it very well without the alterations harking back to the marketing.
Trina Hill stars alongside Hensley as the Narrator. Personally, I love this role as it can be interpreted in so many different ways and Hill’s narrator was just so endearing. She has a very strong and clear voice and a subtly cheerful spark which instantly tells you exactly why she was chosen for the role. Hill’s portrayal is a very intricate one as she begins the show by telling a bedtime story but makes it clear throughout that she is deciding the presentation of the events. Joseph’s eleven brothers really are a highlight of this show. They work so well together, especially through their choreography, and lots of silent backing moments are added to expand on their relationship which was very greatly appreciated. Alex Hetherington was a particular favourite of mine as Benjamin as, without any speech, he conveyed the difficulties and naive hopes of one of the youngest bothers and the parallels in the brother’s treatment of both him and Joseph were very touching.
My main feeling toward this show is that it adds lots of touching and well thought through details, such as all of Benjamin’s acting and his brother’s treatment of him after Joseph has left, but the larger aspects of the production simply miss the mark. For example, the role of the Pharaoh has been shifted from an intimidating ruler who is a reference, through the style of his song, to the performance and musical style fo Elvis Presley is a straight Elvis Presley impersonation in this production. Following this, he has also received a new song int he style of a heartbreak ballad in which he mourns the loss of female attention now that Joseph is second in command. Personally, this song did not seem to blend into his characterisation and simply felt too long without a narrative purpose. It just felt like an odd inclusion. This production also suffered during the tense and dramatic moments of Act One, however, luckily these did not apply to the tense confrontation between Joseph and his brothers towards the end of Act Two. A traveling to Egypt segment was added which, in depicting the ill treatment of Joseph at the hands of the Ishmaelites which could have been very dramatic and tense, however, it is very undercut by humour including both a singing camel and Egyptian monument. It resulted in feeling that most aspects of this production which remained restively true to previous productions were done very well, but any additions simply did not blend into either the show as a whole or one particular tone.
I would also recommend this show as an example of excellent simplicity in lighting and set design. The production team behind the scenes are the ones who somehow add nearly all of the drama to moments including ‘There’s One More Angel in Heaven’ simply through a mostly static set and one main panel of altering light. The overall effect is very well done especially taking the sheer relative simplicity of the set into account and it really places the actors at the forefront.
Overall, I’ve given this production of Joseph four stars as I would highly recommend this production if you are looking for a brilliant night out or one of the first productions to take smaller children to. Within these two roles the show fits perfectly. However, I feel that for long term fans of the show who know the material very well and want to see intricate reimagining may not be so warmly receptive to some of the alterations made.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is running at the Wales Millennium Centre until the 18th of May before continuing on tour. You can buy your tickets here.
All photos included in this blog are production photos and access was given by the Wales Millennium Centre.