Although not the first of their musicals to be performed commercially, this is an early effort by a couple of young chaps called Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who haven’t done too badly for themselves since they penned this 15-minute piece for their school concert in 1968. Amazingly they had already written a full-scale musical called The Likes of Us which didn’t trouble the impresarios until several years later.
It is based on the biblical story about Joseph, obviously, who is given a multi-coloured coat by his father, Jacob, as a sign that he was his favourite son. This didn’t go down well with his ten brothers who sell him as a slave in Egypt, telling Jacob that he has been killed and, as proof, they show him the coat which has been ripped up and covered in goat’s blood. There was no DNA testing in those days – not even 1968!
Joseph works hard and is asked to run the household but his owner’s wife fancies him and, although spurning her advances he gets thrown in jail. Two of the Pharoah’s ex-servants are put in his cell – what are the chances – and he interprets their dreams. His predictions come true and when the Pharaoh begins having odd dreams, his butler, one of the prisoners who has now been released, tells him about Joseph’s powers. He predicts seven bountiful years followed by seven years of famine. The Pharaoh promotes him to be his deputy.
When his brothers come to Egypt to beg for goods, having fallen on hard times, they meet Joseph but don’t recognise him. He hatches a plot to give them sacks of grain but plants a golden cup in one and accuses them of theft. It is in the grain given to his full brother, Benjamin, the others being his half-brothers, but they plead with him to release Benjamin and take them instead. When he sees that they have changed from their greedy ways he reveals his identity and summons his father to join them. The coat is repaired – and dry cleaned – and given back to him. All ends well.
If I had written the bible it would only be the length of a paperback, and a lot more readable! Verily, I say unto thee, let us move on to the performance.
There is only one word to describe this show, and that is ‘fun’. There are three main characters; Joseph, goes without saying, played by Jac Yarrow, The Narrator, Linzi Hateley, and Pharaoh Jason Donovan. There are also the brothers and their wives and loads of kids!
Jac Yarrow is brilliant as Joseph, he has a superb voice, which is essential as this is one of those musicals where the whole thing is sung rather than being a play with a few songs for illustration. He handles both the big ballads and the faster tunes with aplomb. Jason Donovan as the Pharaoh has a niche part, not entering until the second act when he shows that he is The King by doing an Elvis tribute act in front of a pastiche Las Vegas sign. His singing and dancing are really good, but it is his self-deprecating manner which appeals most., along with his interaction with the audience.
The star of the show, however, is Linzi Hateley who also smashes through the fourth wall to involve the audience as well as playing multiple parts with the cheekiest grin I have seen in many a year – sadly. Her role is to narrate the story which she begins to do by having the kids sit down around her whilst outlining the situation to them – and us – leading on to their being joined by Joseph for Any Dream Will Do. looking down the order of songs in the programme, there are only a couple in which she is not involved and even then she was to be seen on stage nodding sagely or riding a pedal-powered camel. Don’t ask. She also unleashed a couple of Cilla Black moments which really hit the spot.
Speaking of Cilla, I think that the only genre of music not covered was the Sixties Merseybeat. We had the Vegas Elvis, a calypso, a Country song entitled One More Angel in Heaven, a Parisienne cabaret tune complete with Can-Can (‘I said Canaan, not Can-Can!’) and a multitude of others.
All of the cast were excellent and their work rate incredible. The Orchestra, under Musical Director John Rigby, also had their moment in the sun when they played an Entr’acte before the second half which had the audience showing their appreciation.
The set design was superb with the backdrop changing from searing desert sun to cool moon, through Vegas Sign and bare stage with illuminated boxes for the children to sit on, to the interior of the Pharaoh’s Palace with opulent gold fixtures and fittings. Even this set had added humour with two huge gold statues, one at each side, providing the backing vocals for one of the big songs.
At the end when the cast came onto the stage to accept their applause, which were deafening, there was a run-through of all of the songs in the show enabling us to shake our booty and clap along. It is a great way of getting off the stage without needing to come back for several curtain calls. The firing of streamer canons added even more of a party atmosphere.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great show for all the family. It was worth the 54 year wait.
Don’t do what I did and waste all those years missing out, go to https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/joseph/ and book now as it ends on Saturday 23rd July.
Photographs by Tristram Kenton. Feature image supplied by Leeds Heritage Theatres