Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s late 60s musical, based on the biblical story of Joseph and his ‘coat of many colours’, took to Leeds Grand Theatre on Tuesday. Becoming a firm family favourite after its film revival in 1999 starring Donny Osmond, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat tells the story of Joseph as he is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, with his fortune eventually changing as he manages to escape imprisonment by interpreting the dreams of the Pharaoh and subsequently saving Egypt from famine. The Leeds leg of a tour that has had performances in Edinburgh, Newcastle and Cardiff amongst others, Bill Kenwright’s production of Josephstars Jaymi Hensley in the titular role.
Whilst rising to fame as a member of boy band Union J, you would think that Hensley had been raised on a theatre stage; playing Joseph with the confidence you would expect from the character, Hensley commanded the stage, not only acting well but having the vocals to match. Whilst playing up Joseph’s slight narcissism in parts, Hensley was also able to play the role with a lot of sympathy and emotion; whilst his rendition of Close Every Door to Me was perhaps a bit too overdramatic, the scene where Joseph reunites with his father and the following reprise of Any Dream Will Do was played with the right level of emotional intensity and was thus extremely moving.
It was not just Hensley who performed well, with the entire ensemble being extremely strong. Joseph’s brothers consistently provided comedy throughout the show, with standout performances by Arthur Boan as Reuben in the Country music inspired One More Angel in Heaven and Joshua Robinson as Zebulan in Benjamin’s Calypso.As these standout performances suggest, some brothers were stronger performance-wise than others; whilst all members of the group had great chemistry with each other, the strength and enthusiasm of actors such as Boan and Robinson only served to highlight the weakness of others, with the dance routines, at times, looking messy. Attention has to be paid also to Trina Hill as the Narrator. Arguably the most important role in the show, Hill was quietly confident and thoroughly endearing, maintaining strong vocals and high energy as she led the show’s narrative.
Whilst possessing a standout cast, the performance suffered from the choice to include cheap-looking props such as inflatable sheep that didn’t stand up properly, obviously fake beards on the slave owners and wooden camels. Whilst props such as these did cause laughter from the audience whilst simultaneously calling to mind the school-play look characteristic of the 1999 film version, they were distracting against the rest of the more elaborate and well-finished set. In addition to this, whilst you do go to see Joseph for the superb musical numbers, the choice to open the show with a medley of hits performed by the orchestra, as well as the opening of the second act with another unnecessary musical number simply delayed the action and made the show drag slightly.
Nevertheless, the energy of the entire ensemble kept me entertained to the end, with the inclusion of a megamix of the show’s hits after the initial bows getting the entirety of Leeds Grand Theatre on their feet by the end of the performance.
Image Credit: Pamela Raith Photography