Multi-coloured sheep, tutu-wearing ears of corn and a singing camel were all on stage at the Adelphi last night. Oh, and Lee Mead. After all the hype, the winner of the reality television contest Any Dream Will Do faced the press and an audience of celebrities as he fulfilled his dream of playing Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s most jolly of musicals. Caroline Bishop went to see how Mead got on…
It is a schools favourite, produced countless times in amateur productions and a frequent visitor to the West End – Webber and Rice’s 1968 musical has become one of the most enduring, and it is easy to see why. Based on the biblical story of Jacob and his 12 sons, it is an uplifting tale of personal triumph over hardship, as Joseph, Jacob’s second youngest and most popular son, is sold as a slave by his brothers but struggles through his suffering to become the Egyptian Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Told in storybook fashion by a Narrator, with a children’s choir providing endearing backup vocals throughout, this is a hugely fun, witty musical which doesn’t take itself seriously.
All eyes were, of course, on Mead last night, the 26-year-old who fought off competition from 11 other potential Josephs to win the chance to play the lead role in the West End. Attractive enough to make the jealousy of his motley crew of brothers and the advances of Potiphar’s wife seem understandable, and with a strong enough voice to carry off the show’s most heartfelt song, Close Every Door, Mead last night proved that he could fill a leading man’s shoes, after years of understudying. He also cuts a fine figure in a loin cloth – though the losing Josephs may be glad they didn’t have to wear the getup Mead finds himself in as Potiphar’s slave.
But this is very much an ensemble cast and Mead must be glad to be among such company – particularly the amusingly entertaining gaggle of brothers led by John Alastair as Reuben, and Dean Collinson, who rises to the occasion as the Elvis-impersonating Pharaoh who steals the show in the second half with his rock ‘n’ roll dreaming. Preeya Kalidas is a glamorous and dainty Narrator, and members of the ensemble are unfailingly energetic in their various guises.
There are many guises to be had – I had forgotten quite how eclectic in musical style this show is. The ensemble leap about the stage in a psychedelic disco for Go Go Go Joseph, get in the calypso groove for Benjamin Calypso and do some bop-shoo-wallying as the Pharaoh explains his dreams. A particular – if fairly random – favourite is Those Canaan Days, a lament by Joseph’s brothers, sung in intentionally overcooked French accents. Rice and Lloyd Webber created a new song especially for this production. If a little extraneous, King Of My Heart does give the Pharaoh some more time in the spotlight as he sings this ballad which squeezes as many Elvis song titles as possible into the lyrics.
It was a long time ago, but Rice and Lloyd Webber must have had immense fun creating this musical, and Mead and the cast gave the impression it is still thoroughly enjoyable to perform. Not even the breakdown of the revolving stage, which caused a ten-minute hiatus in the performance, could dampen the evening’s spirits. A great night out for both children and adults, anyone who fails to feel a tug at the heartstrings must have a hard heart indeed.
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