At this stage ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’, which opened at the London Palladium in June 2019, is well into its limited run. Its appearance on Britain’s Got Talent initially cast a slither of doubt on whether the show would be any good. But since opening, the production has been met with resounding praise: praise for Laurence Connor’s inventive direction; Jac Yarrow’s impressive West End debut in the title role as Joseph; and for Jason Donovan’s gyrating Pharaoh.
Why then write a review now, when a range of glowing reports on this summer hit are already available? Quite simply, to record the star-turn of the understudy, Vanessa Fisher, in the role of the Narrator.
When the overhead announcement informed the Saturday night audience that Fisher would take on the lead role, this was met with audible cries in disappointment and the odd lamentable boo. One patron in front of me even threw up their hands in despair as if their world was crashing before their eyes. But by the time Fisher took her final bow, she had clearly won the audience over. There was a palpable feeling of admiration and awe in the theatre. At the curtain, the audience leapt to their feet to give Fisher an extended applause and there was a chorus of cheers and hollers reflecting just how enamoured with Fisher the audience had become.
For anyone not familiar with the show, it’s a musical retelling of the biblical tale of Joseph. Joseph has crazy dreams and is the favoured son among twelve. With elaborate story arcs and fun plot twists, it is a child-friendly favourite in the musical theatre canon. The score by musical duo Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice has many well-loved tunes including ‘Any Dream Will Do’, ‘Go, Go, Go Joseph’, and the ‘Benjamin Calypso’. Many will have fond memories of this musical either from performing it in school, seeing one of the many stage productions through the years or seeing the 1991 film version starring Donny Osmond and Maria Friedman.
When a show is as well-known as this one, taking on a part that has been done so many times before is no easy feat. But thankfully Fisher did not disappoint.
From the moment Fisher first entered donning a playful dark blue jumpsuit, she transformed into our shape-shifting Emcee. As the Narrator, she made her own mark on the role as she guides the audience and the sizeable ensemble cast through the story and even doubles up as other characters including Joseph’s (now Nigerian) Father and Potiphar’s sultry wife. Fisher seemingly handles it all with the ease of a pro, whether she’s landing a comedic punch-line, leading a high octane dance number, or displaying her impressive vocal prowess. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, she’ll start a tap dance sequence, or pirouette across the stage or do a series of impressively high kicks in a can-can number. She just has an undeniable star-quality and stage presence and it was a joy to see her thrive whilst taking centre stage.
As for the other aspects, I can only echo the praise which has been lauded upon Jac Yarrow for his performance as Joseph. In this vibrant production, there are multiple competing elements and Yarrow could have easily been upstaged. However, he managed to hold his own throughout and delivered a particularly stirring rendition of ‘Close Every Door To Me’. The show also took a risk in including many child actors in the cast. But just as Connor was able to pull this off in the West End production of School of Rock, he also pulls this off here. It was a surprise to see the kids play various supporting parts usually tackled by adults such as the wealthy Potiphar. Their commitment to their roles and professionalism considering their young age was remarkable to see.
This review is quite clearly dedicated to Vanessa Fisher, who with not much notice was able to step out of the wings and deliver to a tough crowd and eventually win them over. If that isn’t worthy of recognition and high praise, then I’m not sure what is. By all accounts, Sheridan Smith’s performance as the Narrator may also be wonderful and there’s no need to draw comparisons here. But if you do hear that Fisher will going on during the run’s final few days, buckle-in, because you’ll be able to witness a performance that is in a class of its own.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is running at the London Palladium until 8 September at the time of writing.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton