There really cannot be anyone alive today over the age of 5 who doesn't know or hasn't had experience of this perennial favourite of a show. From small and humble beginnings when it was first written for a school production way back in 1969 by Time Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, this show has been rewritten and added to over the years to become the full length spectacle that it is today. I myself played the title role years ago when younger and lither, and have since had the privilege and pleasure of directing it on five separate occasions. Looking back in my diaries, I also find that last night's performance marked the 55th time I have seen the show!
This particular Joseph was performed by the youth arm of Heywood AODS, Hey Kids; and was a company of 44 young performers between the ages of 8 and 18. Added to this was an 8-piece band of adults and a large production team. Bigger than most professional versions of this show, and as such, one heck of an undertaking!!
The Show is full of catchy tunes which you will undoubtedly be humming for days to come, and since there is no dialogue [groundbreaking theatre when it was first written, but now commonplace] the music and the singing must be top notch to make this show work; and in the main, this was so.
Joseph was played by Arthur Roadnight and proved to be a very likeable and nonchalant character accepting his fate without too much prevaricating which made his acting somewhat bland, but he more than made up for this with his mellifluous singing voice and his plaintive rendition of Close Every Door was one of the best I've heard in a long while.
Playing opposite him was one of the oldest members of the group in the role of Narrator, Lydia Gillibrand. She too has a lovely voice, but sadly, at least tonight, was quivering and faltering quite a lot, especially on the higher notes.
There were two lovely cameo performances which I really must mention. These came in the form of Tom Hall as a rather camp and comical Potiphar; and one of the youngest members of the group, Lily Ferris who played the Baker - proving that even at eight years old she had a lovely clear singing voice and great facial expressions.
However, the show was utterly and completely stolen by a very talented young man with his funny Elvis impersonation and brilliant acting and singing; namely Riccardo Atherton as Pharaoh. Here is certainly a young man to keep an eye on!
It would be impossible to mention the rest of the company by name of course, but in the main they were a strong supporting cast and were well chosen for their respective roles. One of the brothers, a tall, slim young man stood out (he sang a solo verse in Those Canaan Days), as did one of the girl dancers with long hair, down in the programme as "wives" but so sorry, I cannot name either of you!
As Joseph choirs go, then this was not particularly large with eleven members, and the majority of these were on the younger end of the scale, so it was a mistake to split them and have them as far apart from each other as possible. Indeed, the use of the two areas on either side of the proscenium was rather convoluted and strange. Awkward groupings and movements from the cast moving up, down and round those two pyramids, and the long walk from there back to centre stage made for very clumsy directing. A new addition to the show, a directorial whim I feel, was to make this a young girl's dream, and have her in pyjamas at the beginning and end. This is not a new idea, and it really didn't fit here. It was done in the re-vamp of Starlight Express, and has been done many times prior to that, but is not necessary or warranted when it's a true (if you believe the Bible) story. I feel sure too, that many of these youngsters were capable of more difficult and spectacular dancing than what they displayed last night. Obviously I understand the need to keep chorus movement simple and effective, but there were times when I really wanted to see the "wives" show us what they really could do, but instead the choreographer settled for rather lame and mediocre routines which lacked focus and discipline. The music direction was more solid thankfully and under the guidance of Alasdair Gordon, the cast made full use of their vocal abilities. My one slight niggle is that Those Canaan Days is a pastiche French Chanson and in this version it was a Funeral Dirge; however - no-one can ever please everyone!!
I do feel however that this young, vibrant, energetic and talented cast would have benefited from an older and more experienced production team at the helm.
The costumes were great. Colourful, spectacular and corny... just as they should be, and the set, at least for the second half also looked good. The camel and the chariot were well-made and worked well. My main problem with the set I shall put in the form of a question: Since when were there pyramids and Egyptian hieroglyphics in Canaan??!! Even the use of a simple black backcloth to cover these for the first half of Act 1 would have sufficed. And there really should have been sacks for the brothers. Sacks are mentioned in the lyrics many times, and small plastic panniers really didn't cut the mustard there I'm afraid.
The reprise of Any Dream Will Do sung by just the Narrator and Joseph was unnecessary and pointless, and the named characters should have taken their curtain call in costume. For me that's an unforgivable error, sorry
This is a lively and zestful production full of colour, creativity and young talent despite all my prior negativity, and they all certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves, which is after all, the primary aim! It is being performed at Heywood Civic Centre until Saturday, and it would be a shame to miss it!
Reviewer - Mark Dee
Reviewed – 21st October 2015