Find out all about how one of the world’s most performed musicals of all time came into being…
In the summer of 1967, Andrew Lloyd Webber was asked by Alan Doggett, head of the Music Department at Colet court, St Paul’s Junior School who taught his younger brother, Julian, to write a ‘pop cantata’ for the school choir to sing at their Easter end of term concert.
Andrew immediately approached his friend Tim Rice to ask if he would write lyrics for the project. After toying with ideas about spies, 007′s and the like, Tim suggested the story of Joseph.
The first performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was on a cold winter afternoon on 1st March 1968 at the Old Assembly Hall, Colet Court, Hammersmith.
Accompanied by the School orchestra and conducted by Alan Doggett, the performance was only 15 minutes long.
It was such a success that a second performance was arranged on 12th May 1968 at Central Hall, Westminster, where Andrew’s father was the organist. Julian Lloyd Webber gave a classical recital in the first half, along with Bill Lloyd Webber. The audience of approximately 2,500 consisted mainly of parents of the Colet Court boys. To Andrew and Tim’s surprise, Derek Jewell, Jazz and Pop Critic for The Sunday Times, saw the show and wrote a favourable review of Joseph, which appeared on 19th May 1968. A third performance took place on 9th November 1968 at St Paul’s Cathedral, where Josephwas expanded to include songs such as ‘Potiphar’ for the first time.
After seeing Derek Jewell’s review, Tim Rice’s then employer Norrie Paramor, who produced Cliff Richard among others, encouraged Decca to release an album of the St Paul’s Cathedral version of Joseph in January 1969. This received several good reviews, but was unsuccessful commercially. At the same time as the album’s release, Novello & Co. published the original twenty minutes version of the music and lyrics. As a consequence of the obvious need for financial backing to enable them to continue writing, Andrew Lloyd Webber was introduced to Sefton Myers, an entrepreneur keen to develop new talent in showbusiness and whose main activity was property. His partner, David Land, heard the album and immediately offered Tim and Andrew a management contract which would guarantee them support for 3 years in return for a share of their income. This contract allowed Tim and Andrew to continue their work and made it feasible for Tim to leave his employment with Norrie Paramor.
The first project under their new contract was a second piece for schools, entitled Come Back Richard, Your Country Needs You, based on the story of Richard I and his minstrel, Blondel. It was performed with Alan Doggett once again as musical director at the City of London School in November 1969, but Andrew and Tim did not take the project further as they had already discussed another idea, the story of Jesus Christ. Tim Rice remained convinced of his second idea for schools and subsequently developed it into the musical Blondel.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice then went on to write Jesus Christ Superstar. It was the success of Jesus Christ Superstar that enabled Joseph to continue to grow. The album of Jesus Christ Superstar was a massive success in America and when Joseph was released there, with a marketing campaign implying it was the follow-up to Superstar, the Joseph album stayed in the charts for three months.
Sadly, before the success of Jesus Christ Superstar had really emerged, Sefton Myers died of cancer. David Land subsequently involved Robert Stigwood in the management contract with Andrew and Tim, which was extended to cover a 10 year period, and a very happy association with David Land on behalf of the Robert Stigwood Organisation followed.
In September 1972 Frank Dunlop for the Young Vic directed the Decca album version of Joseph starring Gary Bond, at the Edinburgh Festival, where it was preceded by an act of medieval mystery plays that led to the story of the ‘Coat of Many Colours’. In October the Edinburgh production played at the Young Vic for two weeks before transferring to the Roundhouse for a six week run. Michael White and Robert Stigwood subsequently presented the Edinburgh Joseph at the Albery Theatre, where it opened on 17th February 1973 and was accompanied by a piece called Jacob’s Journey, written by Tim and Andrew with dialogue by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton. This told the story of the early life of Joseph’s father, Jacob.
Unfortunately, it was decided that the combination of Jacob’s Journey, which contained a lot of spoken dialogue, and Joseph, entirely sung, did not work and Jacob’s Journey was gradually phased out. Joseph emerged to receive its first major production in its present form at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester.
The history of Joseph in America is not dissimilar. The first amateur production in America was in May 1970 at the College of the Immaculate Conception in Douglastown, New York. There followed huge interest form colleges and schools but, despite various professional productions including two in New York, it was so successful that on 27th January 1982 it moved to the Royale Theatre on Broadway.
Twenty three years on, it is intriguing to note that in the year of the first performance (and three months before Jason Donovan was born), the copyright on Joseph was sold by Andrew and Tim to Novello & Co. for 50 guineas each. Novello & Co. was subsequently purchased by Filmtrax, who continue to own the copyrights until 21st April 1989, when the Really Useful Group purchased it for £1 million.
Although Joseph has been performed by both professional and amateur companies all over the world and by thousands of schools, this is the first professional production to incorporate the children’s choir as an integral part of the production and has grossed over £400 million.
From the 1991 Palladium production programme.