Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (Youth)

Date 26th October 2023
Society Wings Youth Theatre Group
Venue Croft Theatre, Burgess Hill Girls School
Type of Production Musical
Director Kate Taylor
Musical Director James Honess
Choreographer Abi Taylor, Kate Taylor
Written By Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Report

Author: Susanne Crosby

It’s strange to think this musical was first performed in 1968 and has been almost consistently popular since that time. It does have a feel of the 70s due to the surge of religious musicals being popularised in that decade, yet is also peculiarly timeless. It is bright, vibrant and family friendly: especially this youth version. The songs are so incredibly well known: many of the audience will have grown up singing along to them. Usually casting a local school choir as part of the production, it lends itself to a youth only show really well.

In this version there are three narrators each taking turns to retell, or re-sing, the story of Joseph. As a fully sung musical comprising almost every style of song within it as part of the storytelling, this is an ambitious project for any company and there is lots to love about the way they accomplish it.

The orchestra played brilliantly, well balanced and synchronised. It would have been very difficult to tell their performance apart from their adult counterparts. Congratulations to the Musical Director and Conductor James Honess on this and for all the singing performances in the show: it’s not an easy score by any stretch of the imagination due to the range of pitch and style of songs, and the cast met this challenge really well. Particularly noteworthy was Narrator Alice who also acted out her part really well with beautiful facial expressions, and Narrator Amelie who had a beautifully high and clear soprano voice; Archie’s lead performance of “Those Canaan Days” as Reuben in the sad café French style of song which was poignant as well as incredibly funny; and George’s pitch perfect strong vocals in all his songs in the titular role. There were some issues with music levels and mics not working but this was equipment problems rather than any musical flaw.

Another strength within the whole show was the choreography. Congratulations to Abi Taylor and to Kate Taylor who also directed. All the children and young people knew exactly where they were placed and what moves they were making, which they did in sync. They were drilled: they had clearly worked very hard on this, and there was sometimes the entire cast on the stage for numbers, so there were a lot of young people to navigate. The moves were modern and precise and made great shapes. Especially pleasing was the end picture with their hands in the air, and they opened their palms all in sync together. A really lovely touch.

‘Joseph’ is traditionally performed on a fairly bare stage as it has so many locations, with almost school style props. They made use of steps coming down upstage centre and cube blocks which they made into different things including an armchair. There were stylised cutout pyramids / mountains at the back and the orchestra heads visible through a perspex screen in the centre. The camel was super as was the Pharaoh’s throne: totally in keeping with the flavour of the show plus very funny.

The theatre is well equipped and they made use of the full lighting capabilities, even so there were some lighting blackspots in places which again were probably equipment malfunctions. There were some spinning lights in places which unfortunately, due to where the lights were situated, shone straight into audience eyes on more than one occasion, which was off putting. There were some odd costume choices with the choir and the narrators, it wasn’t clear why they seemed to be in their own clothes, while the children involved in the retelling of the Joseph saga were all costumed beautifully. Joseph’s coat was gratifyingly stunning.

While the dancing, movements and singing were strong, unfortunately many of the children and young people had terrified looking little faces. This could well be explained by opening night nerves and perhaps after the first evening they could relax a little as they realise they’ve learned everything including all their lines. There was sometimes a lack of clarity in some of the choir movements and sounds, some uncertainty there, and a couple of times where song refrains went on for one more round for only some cast members: but all still enjoyable, and at no time was there any anxiety in the audience that the cast didn’t know their lines.

There were some actors to pinpoint within the 32 strong cast: Alice the Narrator was infectious in her obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm and facial expressions as well as open movement; Archie’s lead in “Those Canaan Days” played straight and deadpan was superb; Emily as Benjamin was gorgeously expressive; as was Lily and Laetitia. It was lovely to see so much effort put into extending lines and properly acting not just moving within the space. Heath made a lovely Elvis impersonated Pharaoh but seemed to be holding back: with more confidence this could have been a show stopping moment.

This is an ambitious, not an easy show. Corralling 32 children and young people and trying to coach them all to be top triple threats should be very much admired. Congratulations to Wings for a lovely evening’s entertainment, which had the audience smiling and happily whooping at the end.