Musical review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

A new version leans into its own sense of fun and ridiculousness.

The decision to bring the restaged version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to Australia, 50 years after it was written, was a bold one. 

As a borderline vaudevillian musical comprised of a compilation of pastiche songs, it’s hardly innovative or new. But nostalgia is a powerful weapon – and this engaging new version, which fully leans into its own ridiculousness, has the power to forge a whole new generation of fans. In the words of multiple shiny-eyed patrons I overheard on my way out of the show at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, ‘That was so fun’. 

Perhaps two years of lockdowns have dampened our cynicism and made us crave a bit of saccharine silliness. Or maybe, not everything needs to be innovative. If it’s fun, if it’s joyous, if it makes you feel good – as this show most certainly does – what’s wrong with that?

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was written and composed by dynamic duo Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics). Evolving from its first incarnation as a 15-minute school cantata performance in the 1960s, to a fully-fledged musical in the 70s, the production has been touring around the world consecutively for the past 30 years. 

The plot is based on the biblical story of Joseph, who, in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, was the twelfth (and favourite) son of Jacob. The musical follows Joseph as he is sold by his 11 jealous brothers to a rich Egyptian (Potiphar – hilariously performed as a pint-sized pontiff of power by child actor Mason Litsos) and his eventual climb out of slavery to a position of cosmic/bureaucratic success as joint dream-diviner and future-famine-prevention logistics planner. 

As a slave, Joseph’s hardworking nature and honourable disposition endear him to his owner, before he is found in a compromising position with Potiphar’s Wife – not given her own name in this musical – played by Paulini, in one of several additional side roles alongside her star turn as the Narrator. 

Thrown into prison to rot (‘Close Every Door to Me’), Joseph’s handy ability to correctly prophesy the meaning of dreams (‘Go, Go, Go Joseph’) brings him to the attention of the Pharoah, played in avuncular style by AFL personality Shane Crawford, in what can only be described as marketing-led casting. 

What to say about this performance? Crawford is entirely carried by the talented ensemble cast throughout ‘Pharoah’s Dream’, an upbeat Elvis-style number, as the Cleopatra-styled dancers do-wop and walk like Egyptians in gold pants-and-bras around him. It’s worthy of Vegas – which the neon-and-gold set that rolls out as the song starts is clearly inspired by – or would be, if Crawford had any acting or above-Karaoke-level singing chops whatsoever. While the role is essentially a cameo and doesn’t do much damage, it’s clear that the casting choice was made to attract a broader audience, rather than to enhance the production. 

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical has been restaged with direction by Lawrence Connor and choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter. In this version, the ensemble cast of Joseph’s brothers and other minor characters are played by children – including Potiphar, the Baker and Butler whose dreams Joseph divines while in jail, and a number of Joseph’s brothers. 

The choices work – the mixed adult and child casting brought an energy and comic potential that was played up effectively throughout the show. The children begin as the audience to Paulini’s brilliant Narrator at the beginning of both acts, as the scene is set for the story to be told, before becoming part of the story itself. 

Paulini with some of the young cast members: Photo: Daniel Boud photography.

The set design, by Morgan Large, was simple and effective, with some elements brought in later in the show to maximum effect – particular as Joseph enters the gilded world of all-powerful, authoritarian Ancient Egypt. Comprised of multiple proscenium arches set within each other, Ben Cracknell’s excellent lighting design was cleverly integrated in strips of colour-changing lighting, most effectively used in Joseph’s Coat. The simple, large sun at the back of stage similarly worked well with the lighting design to shift the mood between musical numbers.

The orchestra, with musical direction by Peter Rutherford, were solid, working across the multiple musical genres seamlessly, from the melancholic French chanson of ‘Those Canaan Days’ to the hammed-up country of ‘One More Angel in Heaven’. Updated orchestrations by John Cameron included an extended can-can dancing section break-out as part of ‘Those Canaan Days’ and a pre-interval cheerleader-style section of ‘Go, Go, Go Joseph’ – both worked.

Read: Dance review: Embrace

Euan Fistrovic Doidge as Joseph is likable, charismatic and plays the part admirably – as a lead man he is convincing and his singing is strong, although the bright, classic American-musical theatre vocal style I felt could be contemporised.

The true star of the show is Paulini – an inspired casting choice that went 80% of the way in updating this relatively dorky former school musical into a show worth seeing. Clad in a glittery black pantsuit, she effortlessly traversed the word-heavy exposition while lending an appropriately diva-glam energy and proper cool cred to the show. For the finale, ‘Joseph’s Mixtape’ – another new addition to this restaged version of the show – Paulini brought the entire crowd to their feet, tapping and singing along, before the final giant party popper explosion of colour at the end.

The combination of pop-show vibes, energetic choreography, updated musical orchestration that leans into everything ridiculous and fun about this show, and the child-and-adult mixed casting, makes this production one that is sure to reach new audiences in this incarnation – as well as satisfy those with a sweet-tooth for nostalgia.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Lawrence Connor
Choreographer: JoAnn M. Hunter
Tickets from $59

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat will be performed in Melbourne until 29 January 2023 before touring to Sydney’s Capitol Theatre in February.

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen