Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

I shared this review at one of my Silver Arts Award sessions sometime in September 2009.

During the summer of 2009, I went to see the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat a total of four times at two different venues: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and Blackpool Grand Theatre. I attended the show at Wolverhampton on the 1st, 2nd and 4th July and at Blackpool on the 22nd August. When I went to see the show on the 1st and 2nd July it was the main cast with Craig Chalmers playing Joseph, however when I went to see the show on the 4th July and 22nd August it was the understudy playing Joseph which was Sam Cassidy and on the 22nd August the understudy for the narrator, Maria Coyne, was performing due to the main narrator being ill. The musical is an adaptation of a Biblical story in the Book of Genesis and is a light-hearted show with many different music styles represented, such as the parody of French ballads in “Those Canaan Days”, Caribbean style in “Benjamin Calypso” and rock and roll inspired by Elvis in “Song of the King”, not to mention the western “One More Angel in Heaven”. 

Wednesday 1st July          

   This was the first time I saw Joseph this time around at Wolverhampton Grand where I had previously seen it two years previously. The cast had changed drastically in the two year gap with only Henry Metcalfe who plays Jacob and Potiphar still going strong, and I think that this cast worked together better and made their characters more believable this time around and they all stayed in your mind a lot longer than the previous cast had.          

      Sitting on the front row definitely gave an intense feel of the show as you could see the cast’s facial expressions clearly and all of the cast were talented in showing their emotions on the stage and making the audience feel as if the show was real. Also due to the bright lights the cast were able to see those sitting at the front in the audience and often locked eyes with many of those on the front rows making you feel part of the story and this made you forget everything else and become taken in by the story.       

     There were quite a few notable actors in the production who really brought life to their characters and shone out from the rest of the cast. One of the main ones, was the actor who played Benjamin and who was also the understudy Joseph, Sam Cassidy. This was Sam’s professional debut, however this certainly didn’t detract from his performance and without reading the programme you would not have been able to tell. Playing Benjamin, Sam brought expression and emotion to the character making it easy for the audience to see how he was the brother who did like Joseph and didn’t like how the other brothers were treating him; how he was the closest to Joseph and how bad he felt when the golden cup was found in his sack. From many of those I have spoken to after the performance Sam seemed to outshone Craig even though he was not playing the title role, with many of the audience focussing on his character while on stage rather than on Joseph.     

Another notable actor was Chris Dilley who played one of the brothers, Levi and also the baker whom meets Joseph while he is in jail. Chris, like Sam, was making his profession debut in Joseph, but again this was not to be known without reading the programme. He had a strong voice which was shown during his soprano stint in “One More Angel in Heaven” and also his story-telling through song during “Go, Go, Go Joseph”.      

      This was the first time I had seen Craig Chalmers perform live, even though I had seen him during his time on the show Any Dream Will Do, and though I felt that he wasn’t the best person to play Joseph he did perform well and his voice was as strong as it needed to be. I felt that often his performance came across as false and he made the character of Joseph too cheesy, and how he often acted smug in front of the brothers you could see where they were coming from when they wanted to get rid of him.     

       The whole show was fun and lively and by the end of the night everyone in the stalls was on their feet and dancing, including my Dad after much encouragement and stern looks from Scott Cripps who plays the Pharaoh. 

Thursday 2nd July     

        Again during this performance Craig Chalmers was playing Joseph, however rather than the front row I was sitting a few rows from the front in the Grand Circle . While the characters actions and expressions were not as clear from these seats, it did not mean that I missed out on any of the dances, main actions or the songs, as the sound and voices were as clearly heard from there as they were on the front row.       

     The narrator, Rachael Louise Miller, had shown on the previous night what a strong voice she had and how well she could carry a note, however during this performance I was shown the advantages of sitting so far from the stage, only from these seats can you truly appreciate how strong actors and actresses voices are, as well as the amplification effect that is true of all theatres.     

       Another advantage of sitting so far back is that you can see just how into the story the rest of the audience are becoming and how much fun the show actually is due to many of the audience copying the children’s dance moves in numbers such as “Benjamin Calypso” and during the “Joseph Megamix”.     

       A nice touch at the end of the show was the announcement that two of the cast, Adam Hepkin and Stephanie Harrow’s were going to be married on the Sunday. 

Saturday 4th July      

      This performance was the understudy performance and Sam Cassidy was playing Joseph and Drew Millar who usually plays Asher was playing Benjamin. Also, Adam Hepkin who plays Zebulun and Stephanie Harrow who plays one of the handmaidens were absent from the cast. While the cast changes/absences were often obvious the performance was still at its best, and you didn’t feel as if anything was missing even though two of the cast were not there.     

       I had already been disappointed in Craig Chalmer’s portrayal of Joseph; however Sam’s performance outshone any of the expectations I had. Like his portrayal of Benjamin, Sam brought emotion, character and feeling to the title character and made you sympathise with Joseph when his brothers turned against him. During “Close Every Door” Sam’s voice started soft and I wondered – as we had not heard Sam sing alone when he had played Benjamin and only briefly at the start of the show during “Any Dream Will Do” we didn’t know the full range of his voice – whether he had the strength to fully pull off the end of the song and not one person in the theatre was disappointed. His voice grew and became stronger and more passionate and his expression showed the audience that he completely believed in what he was singing making the song all the more emotional.       

     Another improvement with Sam playing Joseph was his comedy inputs during certain songs. The first time was during “One More Angel in Heaven” when Reuben is telling Jacob of Joseph’s “death” and on the raised area above the stage Joseph walks across dressed as an angel complete with a halo. Whereas Craig Chalmers had just walked across and waved, Sam stopped in the middle, waved at the audience and mouthed, “It’s me, Joseph”, before pointing to the brothers, then to himself, before performing a hanging action to symbolise how the brother’s had supposedly killed him; he then proceeded to look sad, point at the other end of the stage, and mouth “I have to go now, bye” before waving and leaving the stage again. Another comedy moment was during “Song of the King” where when the Pharaoh (dressed as Elvis) is singing about his dream, Joseph really gets into the rock and roll theme and dances along; while Craig also did this, it became clear that Sam was much more a dancer than Craig was and made the act more believable. While these moments of the play may not have been the most important, I felt that it added structure and reality to the play and especially during “One More Angel in Heaven” funny times during sadder songs, and to remind people that while Jacob would believe his favourite son to be dead, the audience would know he was not.       

     Though I much preferred Sam Cassidy’s portrayal of Joseph I wasn’t impressed with Drew Millar’s portrayal of Benjamin. While he gave all that was needed for the character, the emotion and feeling that had been there during Sam’s portrayal was absent when the part was played by Drew. One part I particularly missed during his performance was when during “Poor Poor Joseph” Benjamin walked on stage pulling a wooden goat; this was the goat that the brothers attacked so that they could smear Joseph’s torn coat with the blood. When Sam had played Benjamin just before the brothers attacked the goat he turned to it and told it to stay and then after the brothers had taken it, he looked around to see that it had gone and then he walked off the stage dejectedly. When Drew played Benjamin he didn’t tell the goat to stay and didn’t show much emotion when he walked off stage after seeing that the goat had disappeared and to me this felt that Benjamin knew what the brothers were going to do and wasn’t affected by this, even though we knew that Benjamin didn’t want the brothers to sell Joseph like they had done. Sam’s performance had shown the audience how he had no input on what the brothers were doing and that he didn’t want to get involved in any of it.      

      Another thing that was missed in this performance is that during the finale, in “Give Me My Coloured Coat”, in Joseph’s gold Dreamcoat there are coloured ribbons in the pockets and each brother and handmaiden pick one and pull them out to show a rainbow of different colours but most likely for timing reasons (this was the 2pm matinee that finished at approx 4.30pm and then there was another showing at 5pm) this was missed during the matinee, however they still included the large rainbow which was clipped onto the gold Dreamcoat. 

Saturday 22nd August      

       After suffering quite severe withdrawal symptoms from watching the show – which resolved in me listening to the Jason Donovan version on repeat for quite a while – my family and I travelled up to Blackpool to see the show again. And once again we saw the show with Sam Cassidy playing the lead role. This time again we were sitting on the front row though this was further back from the stage than the front row in the Wolverhampton Grand, but this enabled the cast to do a run around which they were known to do during the “Joseph Megamix” however, most likely because of the timing issues (again this was the 2pm matinee) this was missed from this performance, but as this had not happened at Wolverhampton I did not miss it.       

     During this performance Rachael Louise Miller who plays the narrator was absent due to illness, and one of the handmaidens, Maria Coyne, was to be playing the narrator. Another casting change was that of the brother Issacher. While at Wolverhampton it had been Adebayo Bolaji, at Blackpool it was Jason Denton, whom I learnt afterwards was the main actor for this part but he had broken his foot earlier in the year and was unable to perform in Wolverhampton and so Adebayo had stepped in.     

       Maria Coyne was very impressing as the narrator and had a great stage presence as well as a stronger voice than the main narrator and I felt she reacted and performed with the brothers and the rest of the cast better than Rachael had.      

      On this date the theatre was quite empty with only about a quarter of the stalls full, and probably about the same on the upper levels, I did feel that this gave the show less of an atmosphere and the audience didn’t seem to get as involved with the show as they had in Wolverhampton and there were much fewer people who stood up during the “Joseph Megamix” though the cast did not seem put out by this.     

       Even though the atmosphere wasn’t the best at this performance I still enjoyed the show immensely and it was great to see it in a different theatre which I hadn’t been to before. 

      Overall, the show is one of my favourites, with it’s lively and fun atmosphere it makes you forget everything else for a couple of hours and draws you into the story completely, there are both enough comedy and serious moments to make the show believable and the interaction between the cast shows just how talented they all are. Another good point about the show was how almost the entire show was narrated through song, with very few spoken lines which were mainly towards the end of the first Act and towards the start of the second Act, I prefer this as it seems more convincing than where musicals are mostly spoken and then the cast frequently burst out into song.      

      On the whole Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was very enjoyable, all four times I went to see it, and I would certainly recommend it to others for a good, entertaining and uplifting evening.