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Head to Wimbledon, for a joyous technicolored evening out



Review by David Munro

I SHUDDER to think how many productions and tours there have been of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat since its first performance at Colet Court School on March 1, 1968 - 36 years ago.

At that time, it was only 15 minutes long, but was extended for the first record issued in 1969 to 20 minutes.

This record, though not a great success in the UK, became a best-selling album in the USA, after Jesus Christ Superstar premiered there.

However, it was the Young Vic production at the Edinburgh Festival, in 1972, which resulted in the West End premiere the following year, after a short stop at the Roundhouse on the way.

By now, the score was 40 minutes long, and not long enough for the West End, so Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a one-act prequel, with dialogue by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, entitled Jacob's Journey, which portrayed the Jacob, Esau and Isaac story.

This was phased out during the West End run and hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, been heard of again.

The result was that Joseph was expanded, yet again, to over an hour's length, and this was the version which toured throughout the UK and was performed in schools and academies both in the UK, USA and elsewhere.

By the time of its New York premiere, in 1982, there had been at least five revivals in London, and the show padded out with reprises and dances was an acceptable length for an evening's theatre.

This pattern of revivals and tours was maintained during the latter years of the last century, and the first years of this, the latest revival, is still running in the West End concurrently with a touring version now appearing at Wimbledon.

I can't imagine there is anyone who does not know the plot of Joseph sold into slavery, in Egypt, by his envious brothers, who obtains rank and wealth and has the ultimate satisfaction of having his treacherous brothers coming to him for help.

The role of Joseph has been played by a host of well-known singing actors, although now it appears to be the refuge of singers fleeing from pop bands, who are anxious to make a name for themselves and assert their individuality.

The Joseph at Wimbledon is played by Andrew Derbyshire, an unsuccessful contestant of TV's Pop Idol, although having seen and heard him, this surprises me.

He has a good voice, an excellent stage presence, and although the part does not call for histrionic ability, he gave me the impression that he had acting skills tucked away somewhere.

Amanda Claire, as the Narrator, has a strong voice, carrying out her expository role with charm and ease; she, too, appears to be a name to watch out for in the future.

Jacob was played by Steve Varnom, who doubled the part of Potiphar. He also has a good voice and, as Potiphar, was slyly amusing, differentiating between the roles adeptly.

The 11 brothers, whom, I have never been able to disentangle even though they are introduced during the action, carried the brunt of the evening's dancing. Their energy seemed boundless, especially during the hoe down number in the first act.

The girls in the cast had the thankless tasks of handmaidens, camels, temple girls, etc, in support of the macho brothers, which they carried out decoratively and with considerable terpsichorean skill in their own right.

The all-purpose set, designed by Sean Cavanagh, comprised of a series of ascending tiers with a walkway, from under which further stairs or bits of scenery emerged when required.

It was simple and effective and allowed the children's choir to remain seated at the side of the stage during the action.

The costumes, which were as varied and multi-coloured as the eponymous coat, looked lavish and enhanced the general elegance of the production.

At the end of the day, the success or otherwise of Joseph, which is really a dramatic cantata not a stage piece, depends on the director and, as always, Bill Kenwright and his associate director and choreographer, Henry Metcalfe, turned in a thoroughly professional job with some delightful bits of business, such as a singing camel in the caravan which carries Joseph to Egypt.

I have not seen the current production in the West End, but if it is as half as good as this one, then it must be very good, as this one is very, very good and with cheaper seats to boot.

I thoroughly recommend that you make your way to Wimbledon and see this production before it moves on, if you want a joyous technicolored evening out.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Music, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics, Tim Rice.
Director, Bill Kenwright; Designer, Sean Cavanagh; Lighting, Nick Ritchings; Sound, Chris Full; Choreographer/Associate Director, Henry Metcalfe; Musical Director, Gareth Ellis.
CAST: Andrew Derbyshire; Amanda Claire; Steve Varnom; Lee Mead; Carolyn Sinett; Geoff Hennessy; Robert Jaye; Martin Berry; Gavin James Burke; Jamie Capewell; Mark Dugdale; A. J. Lewis; Gavin Woods; Marion Moore; Kevin Litlejohn; Kirsty Mather; Celia Mei Rubin; Kerry Stammers; Craig Rodgers.
Produced by Bill Kenwright, by special arrangement with The Really Useful Group.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Evenings: Mon, March 15 - Sat, 20, 2004 @ 7.30pm
Matinees Thurs.& Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office 0870 060 1827.

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