Joe McElderry in Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat (Touring production)
I'm going to admit two embarrassing things in this review. Firstly, that Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is very possibly my favourite musical. Secondly, that I loved Joe McElderry back in his X Factor days and despite having seen the exact same touring production of Joseph on more than one occasion, when I heard he'd be playing the title role this was something I had to see. If you don't remember Joe, he was the first X-Factor winner to lose out on the Christmas number one, due to a public petition to get Rage Against the Machine there instead, and thereby take back some power over the charts from Simon Cowell. While I agreed with the sentiment at the time - Simon definitely needed knocking down a peg or two - it was a shame it came at poor Joe's expense. Especially since he literally never sang a dud note the whole time he was on the show. And he was just so nice. Definitely more suited to musical theatre though, which is why I was so excited to see him as Joseph.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical is proper cheesy, and if I'm being honest, I do reckon it has dated. Some of it looks a bit non-PC now (the fan-girling female characters, the Benjamin Calypso and... the "hairy bunch of Ishmael-ites?") It's also very bright and in your face, and it doesn't surprise me to discover it's basically un-changed since the seventies (when it first appeared in the West End). I'm kind of embarrassed that I love it so much, but I do. It's fun, and colourful and feel-good.
I love Tim Rice's lyrics, so seemingly simple but deceptively clever and funny. I love that the songs are so upbeat and catchy, and the darker ones have so much drama (The Brothers come to Egypt is my favourite.) I love how Joseph is a flawed lead character - arrogant and annoying and oblivious - and although you get behind him you're able to get on side with the brothers too. (I think they'd be the most fun parts to play.) I love how all the songs have different themes - the Elvis one, the French one, the Calypso, the Hoe-down. I love Close Every Door. I'm not up on my Bible knowledge really (or not Old Testament anyway) but Joseph makes a great dramatic plot for a musical too. Not many parts for the girls, but it was originally written as a school play for a boys' school, so it makes sense that the female roles are limited. It's a show about believing in your dreams but also remembering to be humble. And how it's never a good idea to have favourite children...
So what was different about this production? Not much really. I've seen Bill Kenwright's touring production at the Liverpool Empire maybe three or four times over the years and nothing ever changes other than the cast. I kind of like the familiarity though - it makes me think of Christmas, and always feels a bit like going to see a pantomime as there are always loads of kids there. We went to the matinee this time and at the end everyone in the stalls was on their feet dancing and singing along to the "ah ah's" for the "Any dream will do" curtain call.
I didn't recognise the actress playing the narrator (Lucy Kay? Or I think I might have seen an understudy...) but she had a fab voice. The brothers, Jacob and the ensemble were all good too, although nothing stand-out. Ben James-Ellis, who came fourth in Any Dream will Do years back (I used to love that show!) played the Pharaoh and did a really great job. He also seemed to have an extra song, which I don't remember hearing before and I can't find out about anywhere? Ben sang it well, but personally I felt it slowed the show down and didn't quite fit. Kind of seemed like a song that was cut for a reason and then they put it back in as a novelty - as they sometimes do with re-release Disney films (e.g The Morning report, If I Never knew you, Human Again). Anyway, anyone who knows anything about it please enlighten me!! And then there's Joe. Maybe he's not the best actor in the world, and he sounded a bit odd trying to sing with an RP accent. Also I wasn't keen on the ugg boots (what was that all about costume people?) But there's no denying his voice is fantastic and Close Every Door in particular was a show-stopper. All in all though, it wasn't the best Joseph I've seen, despite lovely Joe. I kind of felt everything was a bit rushed through, not allowing the actors chance to put any emotion into their acting. Yes, it's just a fun cheesy show, but I felt it could have done with a bit more heart this time round.
Still, Joesph remains a firm favourite and if you get a chance to see Joe McElderry in the title role I would recommend. It's just such a weird-but-feel-good musical and it always makes me happy.
(Oh, and for anyone who kind of half remembers Any Dream will Do - the BBC's search for a Joseph - but can't put their finger on who Ben was, he's the one who does the slap... I wish they'd bring this show back!!)