Tag Archives: Tim Rice

Jesus Christ Superstar: The Concert – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Jesus Christ Superstar - Regents Park Open Air Theatre

Anything describing itself as a concert version is usually being modest and the first major London production in five months is an exhilarating return to live performance. Last year when its regular home was being spruced-up and renamed, Les Miserables badged its all-star interim summer show as a concert production due to the limitations of the much smaller Gielgud stage, and while there may have been microphone stands and a reduced visual aesthetic, in reality it was staged, acted and sung with as much conviction as any performance in its 30-year history. Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre may say concert on the poster but there is singing, dancing, performing and storytelling nine shows a week.

Created under socially distant conditions and with a reduced cast that shares several of the leading roles, director Timothy Sheader weaves the various health and safety measures seamlessly into the show. Dancers are placed 2 metres apart at all times, singers the same, while handheld microphones, stands and the occasional smattering of props are only touched by the performer using them. If there weren’t a sea of face masks around the auditorium you would hardly notice the difference, the production choices easily passing for those of an edgy director and choreographer looking to create impact with a small cast.

But one thing that is different is the audience response and as the performers trickle on stage with bandannas across their faces and Jesus makes his entrance, spontaneous applause erupts from the audience before a single note is sung. It is a glowing and unprompted demonstration of just how important live theatre is to people in a space where capacity is one third of its former number. And after five long months to be at the beginning of a story again, not just this story but any story, feels significant. So, with music and dancing finally taking place in front of you again, knowing that over the next 90-minutes something alchemical will unfold is a thrilling prospect for those present – you may even feel a lump in your throat, but save your tears if you can for you will need them.

This Open Air Theatre production has had its own stellar history, performed three and fours years ago to wide acclaim followed by an equally beloved Barbican-transfer in 2019 and North American tours, returning to Jesus Christ Superstar seems like a savvy move as the venue tentatively feels its way back to new productions. Having previously cancelled its entire 2020 summer season and given Andrew Lloyd Webber’s proactive attempts to restart indoor theatre with Government lobbying and test performances at the Palladium, it seems entirely appropriate that one of his earliest shows should be London’s first major offering.

First performed in 1971 based on a concept album from the previous year, the blasphemous decision to write a musical based on the final days of Jesus’s life could have had niche appeal. Instead, seeing it for the first time you might be struck by how adroitly Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice have translated a sanitised story of sacrifice into an emotional human drama, eliciting all of the complexity, reluctance, fear and pain that its characters experience to bring the greatest story ever told closer to its audience.

And whether or not you believe any of it, Christian, atheist or agnostic, a fan of Lloyd Webber’s music or not, watching Sheader’s production both here and at the Barbican last summer, the potency of its symbolism and its deep integration into everyday society is hard to ignore. The iconography of the cross is everywhere we turn, creating a fundamental basis for how church, politics and state have developed in the last 2000 years, while as an emblem of suffering, hope and redemption the cross exists in art, literature and now theatre as a comfort to millions of believers down the centuries. At the Barbican, a crucifix was raised in the show’s final moments, hauntingly lit and meaningful, while the more limited staging of this revival in Regent’s Park has the character of Jesus strapped to his microphone stand, a reminder of the brutal renunciation of a reluctant man which is the essence of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s long lasting musical.

You see also the alignment of Jesus and Judas as two parallel forces set to collide, both, in their way, instruments of a God who never appears to either of them. The musical looks to recast the story of Judas whose character is given depth and complexity while learning to understand the duel drivers of self-determination and the vagaries of fate that has consigned both men to a particular place in history – or so the writers would argue – without exploring the intimate decision-making and fears that drove their behaviour. Friends, enemies or something far more complicated, Jesus Christ Superstar looks to unpick our school child understanding of the stories while offering-up alternative explanations for behaviour and reactions.

The Open Air Theatre production’s stripped-back, urban visuals designed by Tom Scutt utilises Soutra Gilmour’s tiered stage for Evita with concrete effects and rusted musicians’ box. Scutt’s approach does much to demystify the story, taking events out of their reverential cage by removing the idea of flowing robes, sandals and loincloths to create something much more twenty-first century. The slouchy gym-wear worn by the dancers is both practical and relatable, while Scutt uses costume to create different inflections, traditional cloaks for Caiaphas and his group of dastardly High Priests to set them apart, as do the tabards printed with the head of a statue worn by Roman guards, while Jesus himself is given an off-white colour scheme that eventually dispenses with a longer robe in favour of more practical cut off jeans and a t-shirt.

The most surprising and welcome aspect of this revival is Drew McOnie’s choreography that re-conceives some of the set pieces and crowd scenes to add dynamism to the production. McOnie’s work was recently celebrated by the Old Vic with an all to brief archive showing of his wonderful Jekyll and Hyde while here he employs similar storytelling technique, using quite vigorous and complex dance routines to represent the changing emotions of the crowd and disciples. Some of the greatest moments include the dancers making a socially distanced orbit around Jesus during Hosanna while the Second Act goes from strength to strength with energetic routines for Judas’ DeathTrial Before Pilate, and the title song Superstar. This hardworking Ensemble who sing, dance and play various characters are superb, managing the technical transition between numbers while observing the restrictions to deliver top quality and very welcome dance numbers throughout.

The emphasis in Sheader’s production is on the betrayals within rather than the actions of the conquering Romans in marking Jesus’s fate, and it is abundantly clear, as referenced by Pilate, that first the priests, then Judas and finally his own people turn against Jesus. They demand his death not because they believe it is necessary to save themselves, but as the bloodthirsty act of an impressionable crowd as quick to cast off their former hero as they were to build him up in the first place. The concept of a star burning brightly for a brief time is one Lloyd Webber and Rice would return to in Evita as the lasting impact caused by an untimely death creates a narrative in which the protagonist’s own life and experiences are purified, something which the writers seek to rectify by opening-up the personal story beneath the devotional mythology.

The Open Air Theatre will not confirm performers in advance so who you see playing Jesus, Judas and Mary will vary, but audiences are unlikely to be disappointed whoever assumes the lead roles. For this performance, Pepe Nufrio played Jesus having previously performed the role during the US tour of this production. Nufrio has a softer, more commercial voice than alternate Jesus Declan Bennett but is able to alter the scale and pitch his vocal to suit the tone of each song, hitting some extraordinary high notes in the latter section of the musical as fame gives way to inevitable destruction. Gethsemane proves a crucial moment as it should, powerfully performed and earning a long applause from the audience as Nufrio’s Jesus contemplates the terrible events to come, charting the story of a man already overwhelmed by his responsibilities and the ever-growing demands of others to which he feels unequal. This is taken to a new level as an ultimate sacrifice is demanded from an unseen and seemingly recalcitrant God.

Some of the most difficult elements of the role are in trying to understand and accept the forces beyond his control, the loneliness of his position as the final night leaves him without anyone to accompany him to the Garden and having to rely on his own faith in the brutal events that follow his arrest which Nufrio makes layered and meaningful. Jesus speaks less and less as Act Two plays out, transitioning from the prophet to an almost silent victim as the process of law sweeps him along. The way in which Nufrio reflects his anguish as Jesus is tortured is impressive while his final moments are incredibly moving, not only as his body transforms into that eternal symbol, but for the broken young man reluctant to die whose ‘real’ story we have witnessed.

It is wonderful to see Ricardo Afonso in the cast again as Judas after an outstanding performance at the Barbican. A performer whose vocal strength is extraordinary, Afonso suits the rock-style intensity of Judas’s music as the character grapples with complex notions of loyalty, friendship, the greater good before eventually recognising he has been used. As prime antagonist, Judas performs a similar role to Che in Evita, always there to undercut the heroism of the lead and cast doubt on the untarnished reputation of the celebrated hero, but Judas becomes the other half of Jesus in this production, two sides of the same coin cast by circumstance into ever-connected roles, the fate of each ever-resting in the hands of the other. Afonso’s performance is a full throttle joy, and as the visible silver poison from his bribe covers his hands, the audience has notable sympathy for the unfortunate disciple whose freedom to act may not have been as blameworthy as legend suggests.

As the reduced audience rise spontaneously to their feet for a long ovation, the performers are clearly as touched as we are, thrilled to be back in the theatre delivering a high-quality production. Sheader and the Open Air Theatre team may have pulled this one out of the bag but there are few obvious half measures in this professionally produced show that is concert in name only. There is still a long way to go for most venues and a lot of monologues ahead, but this stirring production of Jesus Christ Superstar is an inspiration, and during a weekend of stormy weather not a single drop of it fell on the Regent’s Park matinee, now that feels like divine intervention. Welcome back to the theatre.

Jesus Christ Superstar is at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 27th September with available tickets from £45. A screen relay will accompany the performance from 19 August for £20. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog

Evita – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Evita - Regents Park Open Air Theatre

Jamie Lloyd really has the golden touch at the moment and he’s not a director afraid to make a bold statement, in fact they are a trademark. The decision to dedicate a 6-month season to the lesser-known works of Harold Pinter was a huge commercial gamble on a playwright who was not exactly out of fashion but whose writing remains a challenge however much theatre you see. But it was a gamble that paid off, winning over audiences night after night for seven curated collections that proved a revelatory re-examination of Pinter’s variety and legacy culminating in a beautiful and hugely acclaimed revival of Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston which transfers to Broadway next week.

Hot on the heels of that announcement came the news of a second theatre season from November at the Playhouse Theatre opening with Cyrano de Bergerac starring James McAvoy, followed by a series of yet-to-be-announced productions running until August 2020. Before all of that eyes turn to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre where Lloyd’s interpretation of Evita faces the press on Thursday. Although still in preview, the production is already astounding; daring and brilliant, a full audience standing ovation on its first weekend proving that Jamie Lloyd has serious momentum right now.

It’s also been an amazing year for Andrew Lloyd Webber with impressive revivals of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar (also an Open Air Theatre production) appearing alongside West End stalwarts The Phantom of the Opera and School of Rock. This revival of Evita makes five musicals running concurrently. It’s not an obvious step for Lloyd, but with a portfolio full of edgier approaches to classic texts, the choice of a 1970s musical beloved of theatrical divas turns out to be a very shrewd one.

Of all of Lloyd Webber’s musicals, Evita (written with Tim Rice) is the most overtly political, unpicking the cult of Eva Peron and rise to power of her Argentinian dictator husband during the late 1940s as the right-wing government balances the power of English oligarchs, growing military control and the demands of the working classes. It has that rare thing in any kind of theatre, a female lead whose narrative is not driving a romantic love story and happy ending. Instead Evita looks at Eva’s determination to escape her lowly origins by using her connection to the people to become the first lady of Argentina, and during the show she demands the chance to tell and mythologise her own story.

Lloyd’s approach is always consistent, strip away the history of performance, forget how shows have been staged before and get to the underlying truth of the story. Notably, Evita is as much a political warning as it is a biographical drama, and Lloyd’s version amplifies the dangers of too readily believing public narratives. So, the way in which Eva manufactures and then commercialises her own history does as much to keep Peron in power as his military junta.

What we see on the surface – the widespread distribution of charitable goods, building bridges with the unions and a glamorous tour of European leaders – belies the corruption beneath. Examining the motivations of political leaders who claim to act in the name of “the people” but really have only self-interest at heart, and dispelling the myths that those in power weave lies at the heart of Evita, making Lloyd’s revival as much a contemporary warning as a 1940s lesson in history.

Designer Soutra Gilmour clears the stage of unnecessary window dressing leaving only plain terraced steps with the show’s title in rusted Argentinian blue and white at the top concealing the orchestra. There is a deceptive simplicity to the staging created to emphasise Eva’s insistence on her own humble origins. The setting, like her early life, is devoid of frills, bare and straightforward in which Lloyd quietly introduces a concept of class in which certain groups occupy the upper regions of the stage depending on their societal influence. The same is true of Eva’s costume, a simple white slip rather than the enormous gowns of previous productions which psychologically attest to her belief that beneath the Dior dresses she’s still that impoverished urchin from the sticks.

But all is not what it seems because Gilmour, lighting designer Jon Clark and Lloyd know exactly when and how to unleash cavalcades of activity at crucial moments creating quite the spectacle. In the very first line of the show, Che Guevara sings’ “Oh what a circus” and this has been Gilmour’s inspiration – applied with a fairly light touch – along with the riots and victorious parades peppered throughout the story. No Lloyd production is complete without plenty of ticker tape, and here torrents of the stuff is unleashed, along with enough smoke effects to almost obscure the stage and front rows, projectile streamers and plenty of balloons all in the strict pale blue and white colour scheme of this South American nation.

What Lloyd does so well is to so carefully balance these explosions of public sentiment with the show’s more comedic elements and the emotional centre of the piece, the result of which is a first-rate piece of theatre. The visible outpouring of grief following Eva’s funeral where the story begins, are matched by the elation of Peron’s flag-waving victory during ‘A New Argentina’ just before the interval and the frantic enthusiasm of ‘And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)’. But as we saw with the Pinter series, Lloyd pitches the emotive moments with tenderness whether it’s the melancholic resignation of Peron’s dejected mistress in ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ or Eva’s own health struggles later in the show (‘You Must Love Me’), Lloyd clears the stage, focusing intently on the real feeling behind the bombast, the humanity amidst all this political posturing.

Musicals endure a lot of undeserved derision, but Evita is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most arresting scores, full of heavy funereal brass for the Requiem sections, jazzy swing and showstopping solos that quiver with feeling. With the kind of visionary thinking that he is known for, Lloyd has contemporised this show entirely, working with Musical Supervisor Alan Williams to give the songs a modern feel, most notably incorporating tango and salsa rhythms that bring freshness to the songs. These are beautifully performed by the orchestra, particularly during the intensity and pomp of the big numbers which feel vivid and energised.

Fabian Aloise’s hugely accomplished choreography is just a joy to watch, modern, fluid, dynamic and full of storytelling using a relatively small ensemble that represent the working classes, English aristocratic colonists and Peron’s stylised army. Every one of the set-piece moments has been carefully constructed and staged with flair so that many of the big numbers will stick in your mind as those terraced steps light-up and offer opportunities for movement at contrasting levels across the stage.

But Alosie’s work is also full of small moments that create such a wonderful and satisfactory variety of steps and movements throughout, not least in the first act where ‘Goodnight and Thank You’ and ‘Art of the Possible’ give large balloons to Eva’s lovers and Peron’s rivals as they are picked off one by one, while Act Two offers some inspired approaches to ‘High Flying Adored’ and the spray-can filled ‘Rainbow High.’ All of this echoes the grittier, more urban choreographic choices made for Jesus Christ Superstar in 2016 and currently on lone to the Barbican.

Making her UK debut, Samantha Pauly is superb as Evita with the kind of rock voice that brings a different feel to these classic musical theatre songs, delivering the lyrics in more unusual ways. A surface rags to riches story, Pauly plays Eva with a cheeky confidence as she uses her charms to lure Magaldi and break into the Buenos Aires performance scene. But Eva Peron was no Cinderella, and Pauly brings a valuable ambiguity to the role reinforcing the shows central debate about the manipulation of the public image.

This is a woman who refuses to let anyone else tell her story, so Eva and Che indulge in a battle for control of the narrative fought over the possession of hand-held microphones as her star rises. Pauly’s creation is a bundle of so many things, arrogance, determination, spitefulness, revolutionary fervour, comedic timing and sexual confidence as well as a discerning political mind supporting the workers but propping-up a fascist regime, never letting the audience entirely sympathise or detest her. ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ is always a showstopper and here too Pauly makes it her own, a moment of wistful stillness in a frantic scramble for power, matched by the eventual fragility Pauly reveals as the vulnerable Evita reaches her conclusion.

Pauly has great chemistry with Puerto Rican actor Ektor Rivera who plays Juan Peron, almost happily pushed into the background by his wife’s star power, but they make a very handsome couple, easy to believe their youthful glamour would be attractive to the electorate. Trent Saunders is excellent as the disaffected Che Guevara as repulsed by Evita’s social climbing and political regime as he is attracted by the personal charisma and resolve that infect him. While Che’s influence fades as the show unfolds, Saunders’s sardonic quality and strong vocals makes this a compelling battle of wills between the leads.

Lloyd has gathered an effortlessly diverse cast for the secondary roles and a hard-working Ensemble that fill the stage with energy in some excellent dance numbers. There’s also a notable performance by Frances Mayli McCann as Peron’s Mistress – the only other woman in the show to warrant her own song – delivering ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ with a quiet despair in another of those moment’s when we pause to take stock, thinking about the easy disposability of women in this world and how hard Eva had to fight to rise above them all.

What you want from a Jamie Lloyd production is a sense of contemporary resonance, a focus on the emotional and truthful centre of a show, and to be surprised by endlessly inventive staging – Evita offers all of this in spades. The result is a production that delivers on the big moments with style but is off-set by the complex and intimate journey through the competing faces of Eva Peron – the lowly descamisado, the predatory social climber, the mother-figure, greedy dictator’s wife and the saintly Evita – a complicated, rounded, powerful and fascinating woman who burned brightly for a time. With plenty to say about the shallow foundations of political leaders hiding behind their PR machines, Jamie Lloyd’s triumphant Evita is raw, fresh and intense – “oh what a show!”

Evita is at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park until 21 September with tickets from £25. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog   

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – The London Palladium

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - The London Palladium

A surprising amount of modern theatre is hugely nostalgic, looking back to what seem to be happier, simpler times. While plenty of new writing reflects the here and now, our deep-rooted connection to writers such as Terence Rattigan, Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward are steeped in our love of the past and rarely seen without the period paraphernalia. But there is a more individual nostalgia in theatre that is also deeply personal, one that connects us to the shows we have loved at different times in our lives, shows that take us back to our childhoods.

Perhaps not many people remember the first West End show they ever saw but a primary school aged child taken to see their then hero Jason Donovan make his own West End debut at the London Palladium in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 1991 is not something you easily forget, and it’s possible to overlook just what a huge star Donovan was back then. Having only seen regional panto before including Fiona Corke (i.e. Gail from Neighbours – spot the theme!) playing Peter Pan at the Marlowe Theatre, this formative experience in one of London’s most prestigious venues made a lasting impression.

Produce Michael Harrison and Director Laurence Connor understand the emotive power of that nostalgia and the decision to include Donovan in the latest revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s evergreen musical as the Elvis-like Pharaoh is incredibly savvy casting. But Joseph is a show which has always had a kind of childhood nostalgia baked right in, whether from its early incarnations as a school production through the many iterations and revivals since, its light-hearted melodies and almost cartoonish story have captured the imagination of generations of children. Anyone lucky enough to catch Donovan’s brief run in 1991 or any of the subsequent incumbents – Philip Schofield, Darren Day, Stephen Gately, Lee Mead even Gareth Gates – are, 28 years later, hoping to re-live that experience. Even if this is your very first Joseph, you won’t be disappointed.

It’s not easy to create a show that looks backwards and forwards at the same time, that will satisfy an audience with a decades-old memory of it while offering enough modern application to prevent this highly performed musical feeling like a museum piece. Connor impressively manages both, working with Musical Director John Rigby and Choreographer Joann M. Hunter to update some of the music and dance sequences to include more rap and street dance stylings. This gives the overall show a dreamlike urban feel particularly in the vision for Act One finale ‘Go Go Go Jospeh’ and through the characterisation of the Narrator.

Like the Adrian Mole musical down the road in Covent Garden, Connor also mixes child and adult performers together in unusual ways that work extremely well. Of the eight children who form a fireside circle around the Narrator at the start to hear the story of Joseph, they end up scattered through the action as several of the protagonist’s 11 brothers, the snooty aristocrat Potiphar who Joseph works for in Egypt, as well as the Butler and Baker, Joseph’s dream-plagued cellmates. A large pool of young actors will rotate these roles, lending an additional charm to the show including some great solo moments that add to the comedy of the Potiphar scenes as well as creating an opportunity for one little brother to start the wonderful ‘Benjamin Calypso.’ It’s a smart approach from Connor and Harrison who use their young cast members to create a warm family feel while tying the show back to its school hall origins.

But Connor has more tricks for us and creates a hybrid quality-makeshift production. There is a fluid simplicity to the construction here that belies the technical complexity behind the scenes. The result is a show that actively and warmly welcomes in the audience but similar awes them with a spectacle that it wears rather lightly for the most part. Part of that idea is realised by doubling the Narrator character with several additional roles in the story including Jacob, Potiphar’s vampish wife and a fellow prisoner. It is an interesting but very successful choice, deepening the notion that the Narrator is a contemporary master of ceremonies, controlling and conjuring the story before us, while retaining a playful, dressing-up box feel that runs through the set and costume design.

A lot of time has passed in theatre design since the 1991 production and Morgan Large has clearly been inspired by the bold impressionism of big West End shows like The Lion King. Puppetry has advanced apace as well so the show includes two mechanical camel puppets made from bicycles and some comedy static sheep that look like scaled-up children’s toys. The centrepiece of the design is a huge backdrop filled by an enormous round sun (or moon) that moves rapidly across the wall as required, but is tonally altered using arresting block colours to suggest the burning orange heat of Canaan as the brother’s plot against Joseph, becoming blood red as Reuben sings the Western-inspired ‘One More Angel in Heaven’ and even an emphatic blue at the end of ‘Joseph’s Coat’.

It is a very colourful production in every sense, inspired by the fantastic array of shades in the famous technicolor garment, Large has created a forceful and vibrant experience, full of block primary tones that give a heightened feel to the action, referencing the notion of dreams and storytelling that drive the plot. Again, this looks simple with layers of basic shapes to suggest time and place, but the overall effect is strong, with an almost Van Gogh-like intensity in the way colour has been deliberately chosen to change the mood and tone of the show. Notably in Act One, the humbler presentation of the character’s lives uses an arrangement of reddish patterned cloths to form the  tent-like home of Joseph’s family, later contrasted by the elaborate detail of Pharaoh’s gold palace. Together, they form a considered and impactful production design which speaks to the show’s history in school productions while making it distinct from earlier, more naturalistic approaches. It feels memorably modern.

Connor’s production certainly never takes itself too seriously and every opportunity to make the audience laugh or clap along is seized with gusto by the show’s other big-name Sheridan Smith. A decorated musical theatre star, Smith is an energetic and engaging Narrator, encouraging the crowd at every opportunity and refusing to stand on the side-lines of the story she is telling. Using her comedy background, Smith not only takes on multi-gendered roles with the aid of an elasticated beard but utilises her meta-theatrical role above the story to add a few nods and winks in the right places to increase the humorous effect.

Given modern harem-style trousers and trainers, Smith’s Narrator reflects the more urban feel to some of the music by marking and punching the beat. By far the largest role in the production, Smith’s vocals are richly layered, precisely mapping the tone changes across the quiet varied song styles while joining the larger dance numbers that reference styles as diverse as Can-Can, line dancing and hip hop. Smith is a hugely charismatic stage performer and here that warmth is her biggest asset, using humour to connect with the audience while creating a distinct and sparkling personality for the Narrator, setting and controlling the tone to hold this episodic tale together. Removing the artificial barrier between audience and performers, Smith’s approach is a key asset in the show’s success.

With only a couple of appearances in Act Two, the Pharaoh is a small but memorable role, amplified in this instance by the return of Jason Donovan to a show that solidified his megastar status nearly 30 years ago. And with the ‘Pharaoh’s Story’ given over to silhouette, Connor allows Donovan to make a spectacular entrance carried dramatically through the rear doors on a sedan chair to a rapturous applause from the auditorium. Essentially an Elvis impersonation, the role is really an extended cameo, full of camp silliness the extremes of which actors often have a lot of fun with.

Now an established musical theatre star, Donovan certainly makes it his own, adopting the fairly broad but high energy approach taken across the production to maximise the comedy. So while he employs the Elvis low drawl and inward-facing knees, he keeps the impersonation under tight control. The look of exhaustion Donovan throws the audience as Pharaoh slumps into his throne at the end of song provides additional amusement, as do the several reprises of the ‘Song of the King’ he delivers before finally letting Joseph speak to him. Some of the vocals are lost to over-amplification but no one cares, the room is alight, lost in our own circles of personal nostalgia – not bad for a 10-minute appearance.

With two big names to sell tickets, Harrison and Connor cast the unknown Jac Yarrow in the lead role after seeing a student production. Due to graduate on the final day of the run, it proves a canny decision as Yarrow delivers a confident, star-making performance. Joseph is not always a likeable character, arrogantly bragging about his power dreams and Jacob’s blatant favouritism, so you may feel the tiniest bit of sympathy when his brothers set upon him. Yarrow navigates all of this extremely well as Joseph’s fortunes rise and fall across the story.

It’s not a show that allows the central character to let loose very often with only two solos including the, let’s face it, almost painfully schmaltzy ‘Any Dream Will Do’ which Yarrow delivers well. Buy it is in the more meaningful ‘Close Every Door’ that his performance really shines, building forcefully across the number and showcasing the strength of his vocals. The extended applause that follows the song is well deserved and despite the lyrics you can practically hear doors flinging open to Yarrow all over town.

One of the most likeable aspects of the Joseph soundtrack is the variable but unified musical combination of country, calypso and French cabaret which reveal the interior experience of the brothers. Richard Carson as Reuben gives ‘One More Angel in Heaven’ a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers feel that comes through the choreography, while Michael Pickering delivers a brilliant rendition of Simeon’s ‘Those Canaan Days’. There’s good support from the surrounding cast in a variety of guises including the extended central family, Pharaoh’s attendants and fellow prisoners that fill the stage with activity at all the right moments.

Given the rousing reception to this production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and full-house standing ovation for the entirety of the ‘Joseph Megamix’, it barely matters what the press make of this on Thursday. With two much-loved performers in key roles and a bright new talent as Joseph, it’s almost certainly critic-proof. Harrison and Connor may play on our nostalgia, leaning on childhood memories of school productions or Donovan’s run in the 1990s, but the staging and orchestration of the Palladium’s new version looks to the future, as a whole new set of children fall in love with this perennial musical. If Yarrow returns to it in 20 years, his army of new fans will come back with him.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at the London Palladium until 8 September with tickets from £20. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog,  

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