Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Adelphi Theatre)

Despite booking tickets months ago, I only actually got round to seeing Joseph last night. I blame ‘the Lee Mead effect’ for having to wait this long – the only performances with availability for a large group were those when Lee was on holiday. As you can imagine, no-one was happy with that option – why see the show without its star!

It was therefore with a great deal of anticipation that I entered the Adelphi last night, and in hindsight, I’d say that the show only partly met my expectations. When I reviewed the Mountview Showcase last week, I limited my post to highlights and lowlights, and I’m going to do something similar with last night’s show. If you want to read a more traditional review, you can see a positive one in the Times or a negative one in the Guardian.

The highlights

1. Fiona Reyes, the understudy Narrator
The usual narrator, Jenna Lee-James, was not performing last night, but her understudy was tremendous. In fact, her performance was probably as good as anyone and I’d expect to see her go on to bigger roles in her own right very soon. She handled a very demanding vocal part with ease. If I were a director, my only would be that she seems to bend her knees before every high note, which can be a little disconcerting for an overly observant audience member.

2. Lee Mead
Judging by the audience reaction, Mead was the highlight for much of the audience. Vocally he wasn’t as strong as I had expected – he was a little flat on numerous occasions – but his amazing charisma more than made up for that on this occasion. He commanded the stage with ease, and I have no doubt that he has a huge career ahead of him, even after his BBC-influenced fame diminishes outside of typical theatre audiences (although a continued relationship with Denise Van Outen won’t hurt)

3. The updated orchestration
Thank goodness the orchestration isn’t the same as the 90s production, so the reliance on synthesisers isn’t there. Having listened to the soundtrack of the original production, I was pretty worried, but last night’s band were great. I particularly enjoyed the performance of the bassist, who appears to have convinced the sound desk to turn his volume up more than would normally be acceptable!

4. The pastiche of multiple musical styles
Joseph is unusual in using a plethora of musical styles within the show. From country and western to calypso, and from french romance to 60s pop, the show moves seamlessly between the influences. Whilst it doesn’t make for a particularly coherent show, it’s enjoyable to hear the mix of styles.

5. The songs
At times I thought I might have wandered into a ‘Sing-a-long Joseph’ performance, given the obvious desire of some audience members to join in. Thankfully the majority of the time, they restrained themselves to tapping along with the beat, but there’s no doubt that if requested, much of the audience could have recited the songs’ lyrics. For me, Joseph’s main appeal still lies with the fact that there are numerous hits that everyone knows. Not a major surprise given that many of us grew up singing the songs at school I suppose.


The lowlights
Despite the many positives about the show, I left the show somewhat disappointed, finding the overall experience somewhat underwhelming. I’ve tried putting my finger on it, and whilst this is not an exhaustive list, I’ve identified a number of reasons for my reaction:

1. The choice of theatre
When I last saw the show (starring Jason Donavan), it was on at the Palladium, which is a hugely impressive venue with a massive stage. Unfortunately, the Adelphi doesn’t feel quite right for this show, and ends up limiting how spectacular it can be. The Adelphi was perfect for Chicago, which ran there for around 10 years, precisely because it was a scaled-back production that didn’t rely on set pieces. Unfortunately, the re-used direction and design from the original production feels far less impressive in this theatre. The technical problems that resulted in a 10-minute interruption to the first half didn’t help matters, but I was already unimpressed. 

2. Pharaoh
Dean Collinson played the Pharao-as-Elvis role, one which lends itself to easy laughs. And whilst he certainly milked the laughs effectively, that didn’t excuse his dreadful diction. I can honestly say that if I counted the words I understood in his two solo numbers, I wouldn’t need more than one hand. It was a truly lazy performance, and I find it remarkable that the artistic team haven’t pointed this out to him during the year that it has been running.

3. The lack of coherence
I mentioned in my highlights that there are a number of different musical styles. Unfortunately, as a result, there is no consistency to the show, and it ends up feeling a little like a pastiche of itself. New musical styles appear out of nowhere and at times, it is just confusing. In the end, its strength became a weakness in my eyes, and I found myself wishing for less variety and more consistency.

4. The children’s choir
I still don’t really understand why the show has a children’s choir in it, as they really didn’t add anything at all to proceedings. But if there is going to be a group of children, it would help if they could sing. Unfortunately, they were pretty poor – given that the music is not exactly complex, it was pretty frustrating and I found myself cringing on far too many occasions.

5. The dated nature of the production
I appreciate that Stephen Pimlott was a fantastic director, and when I first saw the show, I loved it. However, I wish that when choosing to do this show again, Andrew Lloyd Webber had hired a new director and allowed them to create an entirely new production. Instead, we got a recreation of something that had already been done well, which feels a little lazy. Given that the show was cast in a primetime BBC show, it was always likely to succeed commercially, so this was a perfect time to take a risk and try something new. Unfortunately the producers shied away from that, so we got a perfectly adequate, but dated, production.


In conclusion
A fun night out, but not quite as good as I had hoped. Worth a trip, but I wouldn’t recommend paying £50 for your tickets… Make sure you see Lee Mead though…


5 Responses to “Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Adelphi Theatre)”

  1. 1 lizziecharlton July 15, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    I went to see Lee Mead in this last November. My review is here.

    I also saw Fiona Reyes, and I thought she was fantastic – had we not been told she was the understudy I don’t think I would have realised.

    I didn’t notice Lee being vocally weak – maybe I saw him on a strong night or you got him on a weak night? Hmm. One to ponder maybe.

    When I saw it, I noticed the orchestration was different, and was therefore disappointed by the lazy re-releasing of the soundtrack from the 1991 version with Jason Donovan. It was different enough that there should have been a new soundtrack. I felt rather cheated by this, and as you mentioned, the price I paid (£45 in the royal circle) compared unfavourably with the price of a much better seat in the stalls at say Les Mis.

    The pharoah and children annoyed me too (I felt the children were attempting to steal scenes they were in and moved so often [on and off stage, hand gestures] that they distracted me).

    Thanks for sharing your review 🙂 It was very interesting.

  2. 2 Stephen Bullen October 3, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    We saw “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” at the Adelphi in Sept 2008 and loved it. We have seen most of the big West End shows over the years and thought this one compared very favourably – though I have to say we are probably the opposite of “theatre snobs”, looking to get an enjoyable evening from a show rather than studying the nuances of fine music and acting.

    The hightlight for me was the children’s choir. Their enthusiasm and naturalness was remarkable and brought a “feel good” factor to the night out. They never stopped smiling and it actually looked like they wanted to.

    I also loved the “brother” who was later the chef in jail – he played his part well and had me in stitches.

    Lee Mead’s performance was good too, though I felt perhaps he’s now getting a little stale in the role and maybe needs to move onto something different before too long? His voice was terrific, though there seemed to be lots of accidental splitting going on (we were in the front row) – I felt quite sorry for some of the children in the close vacinity.

    We loved the changes in music styles and constant action. But we were very familiar with the Joseph story so had no problem following along.

    I have to agree that although he made me laugh, I too couldn’t make out all the words in Pharaoh’s songs.

    Perhaps its one of those shows that gets bettter over time. We certainly felt it was one we could happily see again.

  3. 3 Carol Law December 15, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    We saw Joseph at the Adelphi in December 2008 and had a magical night out!

    It was the first time we had seen this show, though we have seen many other major West End musicals. Lea Meade was excellent as Joseph and we didn’t feel he was at all jaded in the role, despite approaching the end of his time in the show. We were determined to see him before Gareth Gates takes over next February, and I am now intending to get tickets to see how Gareth’s performance compares. It is one of those shows I think I could happily see again and again, noticing new things each time. Lea projected himself well, keeping the sell-out audience’s attention with ease. His singing was awesome, though I was a little put off by the wobbling bars during ‘Close Every Door to Me’. I’m looking forward to following Lea’s future career, which without a doubt will take him far. At the same time, it will be interesting to see what Gareth brings to the role of Joseph.

    The children’s choir were terrific! They kept the performance vibrant, colourful and infused with a general joy and excitement. They seemed to be truly having a lot of fun and their singing and dancing provided a lovely backdrop to the main cast. Without them I think the show would have been much staler and wouldn’t have worked. With them it was a fast-paced, thrilling medley of different musical styles, colours and action. It would be hard not to be impressed by the children’s professional performances, particularly given their range of ages.

    The narrator had an excellent voice and carried off her part very well, as did the rest of the supporting cast. The baker, who finds himself in jail with Joseph, was very funny – I’m not really sure why I was so impressed by him but the same actor turned up in a few roles throughout the production and became my definite favourite. Perhaps it was his cheeky grin and his generally “fun” demeanour?

    The pharaoh had me in stitches and I had no trouble understanding his words, unlike some of the other reviews posted here. He had almost a boyish charm and seemed to be well received by all in my vicinity.

    I’m struggling to think of any low points to the evening. Perhaps only the excessive queue for the ladies toilets….

    In summary, I highly recommend this musical as a great night out for all the family, from age five up. It may not provide high-brow performances such as might be found at the Coliseum or Globe but it more than makes up for this in providing great fun and a thoroughly enjoyable evening out for the masses, of which I count myself as one. You would be hard pushed to come away without a smile on your face.

    I’m now looking forward to seeing the new Joseph in operation in the New Year.

  1. 1 The Friday musical round-up: 18th July « Coloured Lights Trackback on July 18, 2008 at 4:14 pm
  2. 2 Review: The Wizard of Oz (Royal Festival Hall) « Coloured Lights Trackback on July 27, 2008 at 1:30 pm

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