ArtSpoken & Reviews
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Jennifer de Klerk05/14/2016 11:45:17
Jennifer de Klerk: This cheerful, catchy, tongue-in-cheek musical is meant to be fun and the South African production accepts the challenge with glee.
Of course, since 1974 when it was first performed here with Alvon Collison as a camp bump-and-grind Pharoah in shimmering gold and Bruce Millar as Joseph, stage and lighting technology has leapt forward light years, allowing for some awesome special effects.
This is a bonsai musical, meaning it is compressed into the small space (comparatively) of Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre. At times the stage seems a little cramped for the energetic dancing of 12 husky brothers, augmented by four gorgeous girls for the soprano parts.
Bianca le Grange effectively and charmingly takes on the role as Narrator, usually a male part, and Earl Gregory, a little stiff in the beginning, relaxes into the role of Joseph, especially in the heartfelt Close Every Door to Me.
The Biblical story of Joseph would do justice to any soapie; fond papa playing favourites, 11 brothers feeling slighted and selling off the irritating Joseph as a slave, where he fails to take advantage of the boss’s wife and gets chucked into prison.
Ultimately, after a period in the outer darkness, he gets noticed by Pharoah, becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt, saves his adopted country from famine and has to confront his nasty brothers and decide what to do with them. Stirring stuff, and it’s all there in Genesis.
There’s nothing solemn about the musical though, as each number is interpreted in a different musical style, varying from rock ‘n roll to calypso. The melodies are catching, the lyrics range from humorous to heart-tugging and there’s never a dull moment.
From the moment venerable Joseph (Dean Roberts) is ushered onto a stripy deckchair and the shepherd brothers produce some colourfully beaded sheep – and the highly necessary goat which (ostensibly) put paid to Joseph’s life - I knew we were in for a good time.
No spoilers, but the beautiful There’s One More Angel in Heaven receives special treatment and the brothers are convincingly both contrite and gleeful at the success of their plan.
I wondered how the team was going to do the “hairy Ishmaelites” who drag Joseph off to slavery when there was barely enough space on stage for the brothers, but they found a unique and hilarious South African solution.
In Egypt a grasping British colonial boss and his practically nude nympho lady take poor Joseph into the next stage of his career, where the extremely effective lighting comes into its own.
The second half traditionally belongs to Pharoah, in this case the striking personage of Jonathan Roxmouth with huge bushy eyebrows, heralded by an impressive stage setting complete with the obligatory pyramids and mummies. After all he is “Egypt with a capital E”.
Roxmouth is convincingly overwhelming as the Presley-ish Pharoah, although at the performance I saw the sound mix let him down - it was almost impossible to make out the words of his “cows and corn” number.
Pharoah usually lights up the stage then gracefully departs, but this production adds an extra dimension to the obviously lonely top hound dog, as Roxmouth does a stirring rendition of “King of my Heart’ as only he can.
The beaded sheep are reduced to wires in the French-style famine-hit Those Canaan Days, which has an unexpectedly delightful interlude (no spoilers), and Joseph’s chariot of gold when Jacob comes to Egypt has to be seen to be believed.
Some of choreography – especially when maneuvering 11 undoubtedly talented and hunky brothers around - could have been more innovative, especially at the start, but the singing and enthusiasm cannot not be faulted.
And, somehow, there is always something universally appealing to the wistful final number, Any Dream Will Do; this time it had the audience singing along.
You want more and you get it as the cast rushes through a potted version of the plot, so don’t dash out to beat the traffic too soon.
This is fun; if you have seen it before, you’re going to want to see it again, and if you haven’t – Wow!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice, is directed by Paul Warwick Griffin and presented by Pieter Toerien. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre until August 7.
Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za
Montecasino Complex, Fourways Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa