The London Palladium – until 8 September 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
After 50 years, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s biblical musical is still a dream. Laurence Connor’s production at the Palladium puts the children in the cast front and centre where they belong. Instead of a large school choir/rock eisteddfod mass, there are just eight children, beginning the show sitting around a campfire with Sheridan Smith before they conjure up their colourful story. The children do the usual chorus material, but also don fake giant beards to play some of Joseph’s brothers and the small but pivotal roles of Potiphar, the baker and the butler. Connor has reclaimed Joseph for the children – let’s face it, it’s always been a jolly children’s show, just with a fit young man in a loincloth to peak the adult interest. Sheridan Smith’s expanded role as the narrator keeps the seemingly chaotic feel of a school play on steroids going, with her shepherding the children and cast like a mischievous babysitter tempting disaster.
Smith is a joy to watch. She is hardly ever off stage and seems to be having the time of her life – as are the rest of the cast. With plenty of mugging and asides to the audience, she is a gleeful, impish presence, joining in with dances, bringing on props and donning ridiculous costumes to play Jacob, Potiphar’s wife and the jailer (always lifting a part of her disguise to make it quite clear that “it’s me!” – something that everybody who has got overenthusiastic roleplaying with children has had to do). Her constant presence and involvement enhance the idea that this is a sugar-induced campfire dream she and the children are sharing, making the eclectic musical styles and wondrously silly lyrics feel even more innocent and carefree.
Jason Donovan is a hoot as Pharaoh, making up for his vocals with a hilariously OTT turn under the bright lights of Vegas/Egypt. By casting a Joseph with no fanbase and no baggage – the Welsh wonder Jac Yarrow, still to graduate from ArtsEd School – there is a lovely onstage balance between Yarrow and Smith. They high five and catch each other’s eye during dance routines, and it’s hard to tell whether the pride in the Narrator’s face as she watches Joseph succeed is acting or not. Yarrow is simply superb. His Joseph is cocky but sweet, with a wide-eyed innocence and charm. His emotional rendition of Close Every Door is a showstopper, receiving a standing ovation on press night. What a voice.
Designer Morgan Large has created a childlike dreamscape, lit expertly by Ben Cracknell, and Joann M. Hunter’s choreography is a dream. Added dance numbers for the brothers’ big numbers (which both steal the show) are stylish and funny, with Richard Carson’s Reuben and Michael Pickering’s Simeon jaw-dropping vocals and clowning.
This joyful and jaunty production is a must-see – perfect family fun that is guaranteed to put a goofy grin on your face.