Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat review – a joyous, daggy night out

Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Euan Fistrovic Doidge and Paulini shine in this timeless and entertaining show – but ex-AFL star Shane Crawford is crushingly bad as the Pharoah

Nostalgia, like Potiphar’s wife, is a dangerous if seductive mistress. Though remounting preloved shows might give us a moment of pleasure, it can just us easily land us in the creative doldrums. With two seperate productions of Phantom of the Opera playing in a single year, and shows such as Mary Poppins and Hairspray returning before we even had a chance to miss them, Australian musical theatre currently feels like a retro party that refuses to die. Now Joseph and his coat of many colours is back, and the tilt into the past starts to feel precipitous.

Thankfully, this new production from director Laurence Connor (who also happened to direct the Phantom currently playing at the State Theatre) is joyously, almost wilfully, timeless; it’s a show that so completely ignores contemporary trends it feels strangely apposite. It’s incredibly daggy but it makes no attempt to hide its lack of cool, and the result is endearingly honest and entertaining.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat … joyously, almost wilfully, timeless.
The sets and costumes don’t stray far from the Canaan of popular imagination. Photograph: Cavanagh PR

One of the reasons Joseph works so well is that its score is an extended exercise in pastiche, the songs ranging from bluegrass to calypso, French chanson to a hip-swivelling Elvis number. There are so many musical references thrown about, it never feels dated. This scattergun approach to style frees the show from any kind of period trappings, although Morgan Large’s brilliant sets and costumes are careful not to stray too far from the Canaan of popular imagination.

Joseph (Euan Fistrovic Doidge) is a biblical boy made good, his story arc so simple it reads like parable. The favoured son of 12 brothers, his good looks, his skills at dream interpretation and his titular technicolour coat earn him the wrath and envy of his siblings, who secretly sell him to slavery. After a rollercoaster rise to fame and fortune in Egypt, he gets a chance to exact vengeance on his family but chooses forgiveness and reconciliation instead. It’s Old Testament, so the moral universe it inhabits has a certain brutalism about it, but the benefit is a clarity of dramatic structure.

The cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are tight and energetic.
The cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are tight and energetic. Photograph: Cavanagh PR

The role is often played by very white actors with golden hair whose recording contracts have come to an end (most famously by Jason Donovan and most disastrously by David Dixon from Indecent Obsession). So it’s something of a relief to see Doidge in the part, an actual musical theatre performer who brings real swagger to what can often be an irritatingly wholesome character. His voice is terrific too, plaintive enough to be sweet but rock-inflected when he needs to be sexy. If his final benediction doesn’t quite hit the spiritual dimension the play is reaching for, he is certainly charming and charismatic.

As the narrator, who in this production also plays various incidental characters along the way and acts as a kind of governess to the children who also take on many roles, Paulini is simply indispensable. She is such a breezy, likeable presence on stage, which gives her transitions a smooth and jocular rhythm, but she’s also an effortless singer, capable of being sultry or sincere as the fancy takes her. She doesn’t over-sing or over-emote, which is vital in a role that could easily become forced or cheesy. She joins fellow Australian Idol alumnus Casey Donovan as a recording artist who’s become a bona fide musical theatre star.

Indispensable … Paulini is a breezy, likeable presence on stage.
Indispensable … Paulini as the narrator is a breezy, likeable presence on stage. Photograph: Cavanagh PR

The rest of the cast are wonderful – a tight and energetic ensemble who throw themselves into the discrete musical and choreographic styles with gusto. They tap; they shimmy; they do the Charleston; they even, in one moment of miscomprehension, mistake Canaan for the Can Can. Alex Hyne and Daniel Raso are both excellent as key brothers, and Caleb Lee threatens to steal the show as a winning if diminutive Potiphar.

The only disappointment, well telegraphed by the controversy of his casting, is ex-AFL footballer Shane Crawford. In fact, disappointment doesn’t begin to cover it. In a production where every performer is at the top of their game, Crawford’s blundering, tone-deaf turn as the Pharaoh is crushingly bad. Utterly devoid of stage presence, incapable of delivering a single line with flair or conviction, his addition to the production reads like a giant insult. Things should improve markedly when Trevor Ashley takes over the role in December.

Ex-AFL footballer Shane Crawford as the Pharaoh.
Ex-AFL footballer Shane Crawford as the Pharaoh. Photograph: Cavanagh PR

The Pharaoh’s song is briefly depressing, but really nothing can hinder the sheer joy that radiates from this stage. Lloyd Webber’s songs are brightly infectious, Tim Rice’s lyrics are impishly clever, and the production – with its bold primary colours and gorgeously lit sets (the stunning lighting design is by Ben Cracknell) – is first-rate. Joseph might be something of a blast from the distant past, and it probably adds little to our post-Covid cultural renaissance – but when you’re having this much fun, the future can wait just a little longer.


Tim Byrne

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Joseph..., New London Theatre, London

New London Theatre, London

Lyn Gardner

05, Mar, 2003 @12:07 PM

Article image
Merrily We Roll Along review – Sondheim’s ‘flop’ is a musical delight
The 110-seat Hayes theatre is an intimate setting for this character-driven production that rolls back the clock on three friendships

Cassie Tongue

27, Oct, 2021 @2:24 AM

Article image
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat review – firing on all cylinders
Alexandra Burke, Jason Donovan and Technicolor coat-wearer Jac Yarrow are among a cast whose performances ooze personality and mischief

Arifa Akbar

28, Jul, 2021 @10:00 PM

Article image
Kinky Boots review – Cyndi Lauper's frockbuster musical a head-over-heels delight
The Australian production of the musical that has conquered Broadway and the West End is polished, infectious and a joy

Brigid Delaney

23, Oct, 2016 @2:12 AM

Article image
Godspell review – good tunes can’t save a deeply uncool musical
This new take on the famously earnest biblical musical spends so much time apologising for its religious elements, it falls flat

Cassie Tongue

30, Oct, 2022 @11:31 PM

Article image
The Lovers review – Shakespeare musical charms, but doesn’t always deliver
The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Bell Shakespeare’s first ever musical puts some pop into A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and it is good fun, if you don’t think too hard about it

Cassie Tongue

29, Oct, 2022 @2:47 AM

Article image
Mary Poppins the Musical review – practically perfect and packed with delights
Stefanie Jones is a faultless Poppins in a fresh, wonderfully cast show that will delight families with its comedy and magic – albeit with one misstep

Cassie Tongue

27, May, 2022 @2:03 AM

Article image
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory review – too much empty sugar and not enough flavour
For a show so predicated on the expansive power of ‘pure imagination’, the musical based on the beloved children’s book feels impossibly small

Cassie Tongue

13, Jan, 2019 @12:49 AM

Article image
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat review – stunning debutant steals a starry show
Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan bring glitzy charisma to a jubilant production – but neither can match the young dreamer at its centre

Michael Billington

12, Jul, 2019 @8:51 AM

Article image
Hugh Sheridan: ‘I was overwhelmed with grief – I couldn’t believe that people could turn so quickly’
After a public brawl over his casting in a queer musical, then coming out as non-binary and bisexual, Sheridan has had a tough few years in the spotlight. He talks about what happened and starring in tick, tick… Boom!

Tim Byrne

30, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM