Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
Showing until Saturday 17 November 2012
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 17th of November is certainly in Technicolor, an extravagant, even vibrant spectacle of colour, dance, song, volume and indeed, colour, in the costumes, in the sets, and in the backdrops.
The energy, talent and enthusiasm of the choreography and chorus patently delighted in the familiar foot tapping rhythms of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Conductor, also visibly enjoyed himself in his keyboard performance, exuberantly carried the cast along to the enthusiastic accompaniment of percussion.
Such energy could not fail to enthuse an audience who seemed to be determined to enjoy themselves not least as an escapee from the miserable Edinburgh drizzle in which they had queued to fill a packed house. Their anticipation would have been whetted by the outstandingly comprehensive, full colour programme seemingly produced to delight and inform any one of the sixty school age children who, in chorus, populate a later scene. However such school children were conspicuous by their absence in the audience.
Anticipation then seemed to forgive the 7 minute late start and another 7 minutes of overlong overture which perhaps was masking more unprofessionalism behind the wonderful introductory front ice screen; a screen that was a foretaste of some wonderful sets to come.
Undoubtedly the TV celebrity and talent of Keith Jack as Joseph, had helped to fill the evening’s seats. The audience were not to be disappointed by his fine voice, especially his moving rendering of his despair, when unjustly vilified and imprisoned; a rendering which gave full range to his undoubted talent as did no other song.
It was in innocently delighting in the superb performance of Sammy Kelly as Mrs Potiphar, Seductress, that unjustifiably landed Joseph again in chains. But understandably; no husband could believe that any man would have resisted that tantalising leg raised high around his neck!
However it was Keith Jack’s initial, front of stage, pantomime presentation of ‘self as celebrity,’ that rang a warning note of disappointment to come, greeted as it was, with such a roar of recognition and welcome from the stalls,
Dramatically, this Joseph is, as yet, a nobody, yet he is directed to enter milking recognition and plaudits. It seems that the Director, Bill Kenwright, is intent on giving us Joseph as Pantomime Dame, not in a brilliantly written and scored Parable as Musical.
In this suspicion we are not to be disappointed. Three times the natural drive of the narrative is subverted into a bizarre scene shift. First from the Levant to the Wild West as Jacob’s sons, cowboys hats an all, tell of the ‘death’ of Joseph to a Jacob still in the thawb of Arab dress. Then, later, tripping from Egypt to Paris complete with Eifel Tower backdrop and blue striped jerseys, to portray the pre-famine good times; later still, celebratory party time jumping from Egypt to a confusion of Mexican dress and the music of the Caribbean.
Any Musical elaboration of a dramatic narrative struggles to suspend reality under the proscenium arch. Exploiting the permissions of dramatic licence is one thing, taking it to the absurd is another. How else could we regard Luke Jasztal’s extravagant rendering of Pharaoh as Elvis, however resonant?
Any dream just won’t do. It has to bear a resemblance to the splendid dream of Rice/Webber. The Old Testament’s Joseph as Freud, turning the tide of Egyptian history isn’t a pantomime and Rice/Webber did not treat it as such.
They and this splendid cast deserved better; certainly a better ending than ruining the dramatic completeness of a vindicated Joseph centre stage in his glorious Technicolor Fantail being allowed to drag on to a populist reprise of the songs then Jack trying to do a Bruce Forsythe at the London Palladium.
I was accompanied to the theatre by an intelligent teenager, who herself had sung on that same stage. Her first word as the curtain finally came down was ‘Amazing’ echoing and sharing the obvious delight of the sing-along audience. My amaze was of a different kind.
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