You and Your Dreamcoat
“I look handsome. I look smart. I am a walking work of art.”
I belt out as I twirl around in my very own technicolor dreamcoat.
I am not on a stage and I’m not wearing the actual costume.
I am nine years old, and obsessed with Jason Donovan. I’ve found a vintage multi coloured hip length suede jacket hanging in my dad’s wardrobe. His from his teens which on my short frame, drapes to the floor. I twirl and watch myself in the mirrored wardrobe doors singing along to my Joseph mega-remix cassette tape and imagining I am Jason Donovan.
Jason Donovan starred as Joseph at the London Palladium in 1991, in a restaged version of the show originally written in 1968.
I grew up watching Kylie and Jason. Posters covered my walls. I had all their albums on cassette and every VHS tape. I collected every issue of Look-In magazine with them on the cover.
I even tried bleaching my hair blond, much to my mother’s fury when it turned out a shade of ginger, and I stained a patch in the carpet.
My adulation for Jason as a ten year old, taught me two things, I would grow up to love men, and I would grow up to love musical theatre. But for this wide eyed musical loving homosexual in the making -living in Middlesbrough, video taping performances of Children in Need was the closet I got to watching West End shows as a child.
Like most children in the eighties and nineties my life revolved around kid’s TV. I would race home every weekday from school to watch Neighbours, even after Jason Donovan had left, and on Saturday mornings I would get up to watch my other heart-throb Phillip Schofield presenting Saturday morning kid’s show ‘Going Live!’.
I could not believe the chances, when Phillip Schofield then took over from Jason to play Joseph at the Palladium in 1992. I remember recording the special of ‘Going Live!’ where Phillip had his first costume fitting for the coat and long brown wig, and wore out the VHS tape watching it over and over.
Looking back I wish that I had perhaps had stagey parents who had pushed me to perform. I’d have been quite happy with them making me go to dance classes as a kid, as it was, it wasn’t really until I was twenty-six when I moved to London permanently that my obsession with musical theatre was enabled.
I had briefly lived in London in 2005 when by coincidence it was also Phillip Schofield that brought me here. I had a temporary contact working at BBC Television Centre itself, the original home and studio of ‘Going Live!’, and I was going to begin working as a studio gallery runner with Phillip Schofield on the quiz show ‘Test the Nation’.
I remember my knees almost buckled on my first day when I turned around just as Phillip was walking into the office for a script meeting. Ridiculously handsome, with his striking silver hair and brown eyes, suddenly I am that fascinated nine year old boy again, who recorded and wore out an episode of the travel series from 1991, Schofield’s Europe in which BBC One radically screened a shot of Phillip hopping naked out of a hot tub to plunge into a pool. Although it was only a brief glimpse of his bum, twenty years later it was still etched into my memory.
I would then go on to work again with Phillip Schofield as a researcher for Dancing on Ice, and spent a few years working in TV, and then film before deciding at thirty that I wanted to try acting.
With some money behind me and the confidence, I applied for an acting course at Arts Educational Schools in 2014. Some of my close friends by that point had gone there, and it was the only drama school that I wanted to go to. I auditioned using a monologue by Simon Stephens and got in. Admittedly the oldest in my year, I had the best time. Turning up every day, hearing voices warm up, and watching other boys skip down the corridor. My only regret was that I hadn’t done this years ago.
Arts Ed gave me a great foundation in acting, and although I have stayed working within TV and film, I still have a huge love for the stage, and admiration for musical theatre performers. But then if you’ve been reading my blog for the past three months, you’d know that.
I realised within myself whilst I was at Arts Ed as a thirty-three year old, that I was going to have to dedicate far too much of myself to ever catch up. Those aspirations to actually be on a West End stage were thinning along with my hair. I was also beginning to recognise that the people around me had so much more talent as well as youth on their side.
You can ask any actor what their dream roles are, and they usually can answer without hesitation, and more often than not it’s a realistic aspiration if they know their own casting. At five foot five inches tall, I’m happy to say I’m more a Boq than a Fiyero when people ask me, but as well as that, and ever since I was nine years old and saw Jason Donovan wearing that coat, I always wanted to be Benjamin.
I mean of all the other brother’s he’s the one that stands out right? I mean if you’re realistically never going to be Joseph you want the next best one.
My fondness for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, has never really wavered. In 2007, when the BBC produced the televised search for a new star of Joseph that was won by Lee Mead, I was living in Italy by that point filming a property programme with Sarah Beeney for Channel Four.
The ‘Any Dream Will Do’ series happened to be directed by Julian Smith, who had given me my job working with Phillip Schofield on Test the Nation, two years before. Because of this, I had DVDs sent over to me in Italy of the series each week, and remember watching as one by one, the series crowed its new leading man.
As well as Lee Mead, the show became a launch pad for other leading men including Daniel Boys who recently starred in the latest Nativity movie, and Keith Jack who is currently on tour with Fame.
Lee Mead starred as Joseph at the Adelphi theatre for sixteen months until 2009 before being replaced by Gareth Gates shortly before the show closed.
Keith Jack appeared as Joseph in the touring production in 2010, before Ian “H” Watkins from Steps replaced him. X Factor winner Joe McElderry played Joseph in 2016, and joined Lee Mead and Jason Donovan for a special performance at the 2018 Olivier Awards,marking the 50th anniversary of the show.
Despite rumors that Hello, Dolly! was going to be coming to the Palladium in 2019, it was announced towards the end of last year that a new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat would infact be returning for an 11 week run from 26th June.
Speculation then began to mount as to who would play the coveted role, as well as who would be lined up to play the narrator. Early rumours were that Carrie Hope Fletcher was a contender, however she was taken out of the running once she confirmed that she would be returning to Les Miserables this summer.
I received an email from a PR company telling me that Jaymi Hensley would be playing Joseph. Wow, I thought, that’s incredible, Jaymi is represented by my friend Simon’s agency Oxford Adams, and I had seen Jaymi perform before and really like his voice. Good for him, I thought. I then read on and realised that they meant Jaymi will be playing Joseph on tour.
The announcement that Sheridan Smith will be playing the narrator was made earlier this month, shortly followed by the big announcement that Jason Donovan himself will be returning to the Palladium twenty-eight years after playing Joseph. He is returning this time to play Pharaoh.
I wrote about this earlier this week in my weekly blog where I said:
“It’s inspired casting, and I am personally delighted that I already have my ticket booked. I saw Jason last year at Edinburgh Festival when he took his show Jason Donovan and his Amazing Mid Life Crisis, a part chat, look back over his career with video montages, and a couple of performances, Jason discussed openly that he has had vocal surgery, and if anybody saw him recently join Kylie Minogue on stage at Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park, where she snatched the microphone back off him during an impromptu rendition of ‘Especially for You’. Her defence was that she was protecting Jason who clearly hadn’t warmed up.
Whether or not his voice will be on form for eight shows a week, I definitely cannot wait to see Jason back on that stage.”
The announcement of who was going to play Joseph was still pending, when I noticed on my friend Jacob Fisher’s Facebook page the announcement that he was Joseph. Oh my god, wow! Incredible. Jacob was at Arts Ed the same time as me, and has gone on to start in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Regents Park, and in Eugenenius, before starring as one of the brothers in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Kilworth House Theatre in 2018.
Oh. Wait. I read on. The Kilworth production will be returning in 2019, in which Jacob will be Joseph.
So this means there’ll be three UK productions of Joseph running concurrently this summer. It really is like waiting for a bus to come along.
I am personally delighted, I didn’t managed to see the Kilworth production last year, but I had heard good things about it’s reimagined production.
I’m also extremely happy for Jacob, who I last saw in the touring production of Doctor Dolittle. The year long tour that Jacob was due to still be on, collapsed due to finance issues after two months. Sad for all involved, it does however prove for Jacob at least that every cloud has a silver, or in his case, technicolor lining.
I had literally only just finished tweeting about Jacob, to congratulate him, when stone the crows, someone had to steal his thunder.
Baz Bamigboye had just exclusively announced for the Daily Mail who the new Joseph at the Palladium is going to be...
Could it possibly be Olly Murs? his name had been batted around this week as a contender.
Baz revealed with a crash of drums that the role of Joseph was going to be filled by Jac Yarrow, a young welsh third year musical theatre student still studying at Arts Ed.
I instantly felt proud.
It is an amazing feat, and is an amazing move forward for the industry. The Palladium has always been the home for making stars, and rather than relying on celebrity casting, this production has set a precedence to cultivate new emerging talent.
Jac has recently wowed audiences in the Arts Ed production of Newsies, which has put him forward to make his professional acting debut in a show written more than thirty years before he was even born. He will work now alongside Jason Donovan who played Joseph before he was even born.
Although, as a photo that quickly surfaced immediately after the announcement was made, this is actually not the first time that Jac has shared the stage with Jason.
During the 2018 Olivier Award performance with Jason, Joe McEldery and Lee Mead, Jac Yarrow was part of the choir made up of Arts Ed students. Standing in the shadows, I’d like to think that Jac was eyeing up Joe’s technicolor coat thinking “One day, I’ll be wearing that”, and proving that any dream will do, from 26th June, he will be.