KATHRYN Addison directs York Musical Theatre Company in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s ever popular, ever colourful 1968 debut musical at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from tonight.
From the book of Genesis to the musical’s genesis as a cantata written for a London school choir, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has grown into an iconic musical theatre staple with its story of the biblical journey of Joseph, son of Jacob and one of 12 brothers, and his coat of many colours.
Here husband and wife Jonathan Wells and Jennie Wogan-Wells lead the cast as Joseph and the Narrator respectively.
“I directed it in 2015 with my Year 3 and 4 pupils at Knavesmire Primary School, where there are 120 children in those classes – and they knew all the words,” recalls Jennie of her past involvement at the helm of Joseph.
“Now I’m playing the Narrator – a very important role! – who knits the whole show together. It’s a bit of a dream role for me as my parents had the LP and I remember spinning round and round to Potiphar with my brother in the front room because it gets faster and faster.
“Now I get to play the Narrator, indulging in my childhood dream to be in the show.” What’s more, the choir from Jennie’s school will be singing at the Thursday evening and Saturday matinee performances. (Wigginton Primary School will provide Years 4 to 6 pupils to perform tonight, Friday and Saturday night.)
“They’re obsessed with it! We practise every lunchtime, and yes, they’ve learnt all the colours in the dreamcoat! It’s nice because parents and teachers remember it from their own childhood, and now, for the children, it will be the first time they’ve been on a stage away from the school.”
Director-choreographer Kathryn Addison was born in the year that Joseph made its debut (1968). “It started as a 15 to 20-minute school musical, so look how it’s grown since then,” she says.
It changes again in her hands: rather than 12 brothers, it becomes a story of a family: brothers and two sisters (although credited as brothers). “It’s not an issue. We still acknowledge the brothers who have ‘not turned up’ – and we’ve been really lucky in the casting. We’ve neither had to drag people in and nor would we have wanted to,” she says.
“I was in York Shakespeare Project’s all-female Henry V, and it isn’t about gender. It takes gender out of it. It’s not about male/female but who’s right for a role and what can they bring to it?”
Kathryn is “staying true to the spirit of Joseph”. “That’s really important,” she says. “I think Lloyd Webber is a bit ‘Marmite’, but like every writer or composer, there are things you like, things you don’t.
“I feel this musical has an innocence that allows people to really enjoy it as a company show, and it’s felt like a company in rehearsal. It feels tight and there’s a collective will. There’s been no egos in the rehearsal room and nor will there be any on stage.”
The cast of 23 will be complemented by 21 children from Knavesmire Primary and 17 from Wigginton Primary at this week’s performances. “It’s just fun for all of us,” says Jennie.
“If you’re enjoying it on stage, then the audience are going to enjoy it too. Rehearsals have been great fun and I’ve really looked forward to them.”
Nothing delights more than Pharaoh’s Song Of The King: the Elvis one, performed this week by newly married Anthony Gardner. “There’s no point trying to make it anything else than it is: some Elvis impersonator going down to sing on the Scarborough sea front!” says Kathryn. “So you recognise that and crack on with it! Let’s bring out that style as director/choreographer.”
Jennie says: “Kathryn has a clear vision, with room for nice little mood changes and quirks, and it’s great to have that freedom within it. It’s got great balance.”
It all adds up to a show that appeals to children and adults alike. “Everyone enjoys themselves, and it’s rare in being a show that brings people to the theatre that don’t normally go. It’s always nice to do that, for people to realise that theatre is open for them.”
Jennie is enjoying performing alongside husband Jonathan’s Joseph. “It’s been lovely to do the show together, though we’ve done that before, but we’ve never been principals together before,” she says.
“The Narrator is the framework of the show. It’s that whole thing of me telling the story to the children, so it’s a busman’s holiday really.
“During the rehearsal weeks, I can switch off more than him. He’s always humming the tunes, singing in the car, but it’s very much our life at the moment. We’re going to be bereft when it finishes, but it’s been really lovely as I’ve been able to rehearse at home with him.”
Kathryn has her own fond memory of bygone Joseph performances. “I did the show with my dad, playing Jacob, more than 30 years ago. That really tugs at my heartstrings, but also I’m at the stage when being on stage is quite hard work, and I’ve done a lot of directing and choreographing, though this show is much harder to direct than I’d first given it credit for because it’s sung through,” she says.
“But I love the show. It’s a passion project, and to be able to work with a group of people on a community project, where it’s all about the whole company working together, has been a really positive process for me.
“From the start, I’ve seen this story as being based in Yorkshire; these farmers in the 1920s/1930s, with a bit of a Peaky Blinders vibe to it. They were a nasty bunch to their brother! So we travel from the Yorkshire farms to Scarbados and that sea front, our Las Vegas!
“When I think of Joseph and Scarborough, I think of Mark Herman’s film of Little Voice, with the lights on the sea front at night. And a casino; that’s where I see Pharaoh.”
As for the Technicolor Dreamcoat of the title: thank you to Ripon Amateur Operatic Society for providing wardrobe services.
York Musical Theatre Company in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight until Saturday plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee (sold out). Ticket update: limited availability for tonight and tomorrow; last few for Friday and Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.