JoAnn M. Hunter Talks Joseph's Dreamcoat At The London Palladium

by Michael Mahany | 7/11/2019 5:36 PM

Sheridan Smith and the cast of ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

The West End revival of ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, choreographed by Broadway’s JoAnn M. Hunter, officially opens tonight, July 11th at the London Palladium.

‘Joseph…’, with a score by legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (‘Cats’, ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’, ‘Evita’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’) and lyrics by Tim Rice (‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, ‘Evita’, ‘The Lion King’), is celebrating its 40th Anniversary with the Palladium staging.

The production features Olivier winning actress Sheridan Smith as the Narrator, Jason Donovan (who played Joseph in the 1991 West End revival of the musical) as Pharaoh, and newcomer Jac Yarrow in the title role.

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Hunter, who in 2015 teamed up with Lloyd Webber on ‘School Of Rock’, also choreographed Broadway’s ‘Disaster’ and ‘On A Clear Day You Can See Forever’. Prior to transitioning to the choreographic side of the table, Hunter appeared in many Broadway shows herself, including ‘Jerome Robbins’ Broadway’, ‘Miss Saigon’, ‘Steel Pier’, ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ and more.

JoAnn M. Hunter. Photo credit: LSG PR.

The famed London Palladium, currently owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Really Useful Group production company, is a grand 2200 seat theatre built in 1910. The West End house, designed to compete with its nearby neighbors The Hippodrome and The Coliseum, has played host to countless legendary performers and shows in its over 100-year history.

Dance Network spoke with Hunter, still in London, just before opening night to get all the details on the production, her approach to choreographing the myriad styles in the piece, the differences between working in the UK versus the US, and what’s next for her.

Check out the full interview below: 

Sheridan Smith in ‘Joseph…’. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

Dance Network: JoAnn, thanks for taking the time to chat with us again, especially when you're so busy! It's always such a pleasure to talk with you. 

So, 'Joseph...' at the Palladium sure seems to be the talk of the town in London -- so much so, we're hearing great things over here in the States. Now, before we dive into the show itself, can you tell us a little bit about what's it like to put up a show as a choreographer in the famed theatre?

JoAnn M. Hunter: Ah, The Palladium! It is a spectacular venue. I was actually lucky enough to rehearse ‘School Of Rock’ on the stage of the Palladium for two weeks. We had an “in”…. we knew the theatre owner (wink). The Palladium is a huge theatre but funny enough, it has a quite intimate feel to it. There are not a lot of sight issues and the mezzanine — or Royal Circle as they call it across the pond —, hangs quite forward so you are so much closer to the stage. There is a Wall of Fame that houses photos of Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jr, Bing Crosby, Liberace, and a plethora of iconic stars of their time. It is so beautiful. To walk in the stage door that is right next to this wall is a pretty cool thing. I am beyond honored to be able to mount a show here.

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DN: 'Joseph...' is written by your colleague Andrew Lloyd Webber, with whom you collaborated on 'School Of Rock' on Broadway — what's it been like for you reconnect with the iconic composer?

JMH: I adore Andrew. He has always been so kind to me. He has very specific opinions but he allows you to create.

Jac Yarrow as Joseph in ‘Joseph…’. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

DN: Although 'Joseph...' is written by ALW, the music itself is SO different from 'School Of Rock'. Really, the whole score of 'Joseph' is full of so many different styles of music, everything from Elvis style rock-n-roll, and country western, to French and Calypso -- so, tell us, how did you approach this as a choreographer? Where did you pull inspiration to find movement and choreography to fit the variety of music styles?

JMH: Oh this is what makes the show fun for me as a choreographer. Because ALW created some of the songs with a wink of pastiche, it has afforded me such creative freedom. Andrew allowed me to bring in my dance arranger, Sam Davis to create new dance music. We had a blast and ALW was so supportive. My first love is musical theatre and I have been fortunate enough to perform in many Broadway shows that were across the board in style and period. When I approach a piece of material, I research the time, I look at photos. Photos actually inspire me. “Go Go Joseph” sits in a more popish style so I wanted to play with how it starts. It had to be a celebration of Joseph’s possibilities so Sam and I played with a chant to launch us into the song.  

DN: What has it been like working with your all-star leading actors? It must be so interesting for everyone involved to have Jason Donovan back in the show again, but this time as Pharaoh? And, Sheridan Smith, what a superstar, right? And newcomer Jac Yarrow? 

JMH: Okay, Let me start with sweet, lovely Jac. He is the new one on that stage and loving it which of course makes you love him. Watching Jason and Sheridan with him is a treat and a lesson in kindness and generosity.  Jason, oh-oh, he makes me laugh.  It works his cute butt off! No kidding. Always practicing, honing, perfecting his show. I love that. Sheridan is the coolest. She is kind, funny, vulnerable, spunky, fearless and talented to boot!  I have adored every moment I have gotten to spend with her and let me tell you, she DANCES!!!!!! Sheridan picks up choreography faster than some dancers!  She is a dancer at heart. She works like a dancer, has discipline like a dancer.  I am crazy about her. She will blow your socks off!

Jason Donovan as Pharaoh and the cast in ‘Joseph…’. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

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DN: As far as your ensemble of dancers is concerned, do you find it different working with dancers in the UK versus the US?

JMH: I do not find that the dancers are so different from the dancers in the US so much. What I do find is more generational. The younger folks do not always have the discipline that we ole’ timers do/did, both in the US and the UK. I have noticed the UK dancers dance in socks in rehearsal. In the US, you do not come into the room without your dance shoes. I do not get the sock dancing. It actually drives me a little bonkers.

The cast of 'Joseph...'. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

DN: Lastly, we know you recently finished up choreographing the successful production of 'Ever After' down in Atlanta earlier this year. When you're back in the states, anything tidbits you might be able to give us about some upcoming projects?

JMH: I am about to start a workshop of SuperYou, The Musical by Lourds Lane.  It is a rock musical, with superheroines who help [the leading character] Katie find and believe in her own super being. Empowerment, confidence, humanity.

DN: Wow, that’s so exciting... are you ever going to get in a break for yourself?

JMH: Yes, I leave for vacation the day after we open and I can not wait!!!

For more on JoAnn M. Hunter visit her website here. For more on ‘Joseph…’ at the Palladium, check out the show’s site, here.

Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York City correspondent. He is also a professional actor, singer, dancer, writer, and host. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.

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