Biblical pain and suffering? Get outta here. There used to be a stage makeup color called “light Egyptian,” and that’s exactly what’s on offer here. There’s darkness in the one (much reprised) song “Close Every Door,” but the rest of this revival of Steven Pimlott’s 1991 giant hit production (filmed with Donny Osmond and Maria Friedman) is all about brightness. Previously unknown leading man Lee Mead, cast by TV viewers, may have built the show a $20 million advance, but its one singular sensation is actually Mark Thompson’s production design, which is brilliant in all senses of the word.
Clearly, the title’s a bit of a clue when it comes to the prevailing tone likely to be dreamed up by anyone designing “Joseph.” But Thompson takes it further than anyone could have, er, dreamed. Indeed, the only reason Thompson didn’t bag the design Oliviers back in 1991 was that he won both set and costume awards for other shows.
Thompson and Pimlott winningly reconceived “Joseph” as a rainbow-colored riot. In a cobalt-blue stage box inside a giant, gilt picture frame, the cast parade and prance in a literally dazzling array of hundreds of supremely witty costumes. Question: Are the backstage dressers the hardest working members of the entire company?
The colorful palette is supplemented by endless visual set gags. It isn’t just Joseph’s coat that is multihued but the sheep as well. The enormous mummy at the back of Pharaoh’s palace dispenses corn by doubling as a slot machine. About the only obvious update for the production is a golden model of the London Eye that zips incongruously by on the twin revolve.
As expected from the most professionally qualified of the contestants of BBC’s star search “Any Dream Will Do,” Mead makes a highly respectable Joseph. He has more charm than charisma, but when it comes to the necessary energy, empathy and, above all, strong voice, Meads delivers. And, to the evident delight of screaming fans, he looks good in a loincloth.
While serious acting was always off the agenda here — Rice and Webber’s show has more of a storyline than a script — there is a sense of superficiality about the event that stems from its status as a revival. Pimlott passed away earlier this year, and although the cast has been well drilled (Nichola Treherne serves as associate director), the detail and wit in the design are not matched by the performances.
One of the brothers doubles as the baker and pulls identical facial and physical expressions in both roles. Pharoah Dean Collinson’s Elvis impersonation is pretty broad, but a miscast Preeya Kalidas as the Narrator suffers most.
Teetering around in the highest of heels, she smiles but rarely looks convinced, as if she has been left to her own devices. Kalidas has a lustrous, dark-toned mid-range, but attempting the high notes she screeches — a problem exacerbated by the sometimes aggressive sound design.
There are times when the upbeat mood is so relentless, you wonder if the creative team actually noticed that this production, conceived for the London Palladium with over 1,000 more seats, is now in the smaller Adelphi Theater.
And yet for all its lack of subtlety, there’s a joyousness about it. Even the rampantly shameless, energetically performed disco-megamix finale has an undiluted sense of fun that only a real curmudgeon could dislike.
What’s the overall commercial temperature of the show? That of a forgone conclusion. Mead is contracted for at least a year. For as long as he chooses to continue in it, “Joseph” is, commercially speaking, the safest of bets. And when he decides to hang up his coat, there are all the runners-up to cast.