Jac Yarrow on the Thrill of His Professional Stage Debut in London's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Jac Yarrow on the Thrill of His Professional Stage Debut in London's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Jac Yarrow with the children's chorus of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)

The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a regular visitor to the London stage but there's never in my extensive experience been as likable and vocally gifted a Joseph as current West End newcomer Jac Yarrow, who more than holds his own alongside such name performers as Jason Donovan and Sheridan Smith. (Donovan, of course, once himself played Joseph). So it was a true pleasure to catch Yarrow backstage one recent afternoon to talk burgeoning fame (The New York Times called him a "stardom-bound ingénue") and bringing the opening-night audience at the Palladium to its feet mid-show.

Is it true that you are talking to me from the same star dressing room at the Palladium that once housed Judy Garland, among many others?
I am, can you believe it? It's kind of crazy! They updated the backstage of the theater about a year ago but I keep thinking that maybe she signed her name somewhere underneath the desk.

How does it feel to be claiming that star spot for yourself, in what, remarkably, marks your professional theater debut on any stage?
It's amazing. It feels nice that we're kind of in this routine now and that I feel so comfortable in the show, which I know like the back of my hand. We're so lucky, too, that we have the nicest company in the world. For my first job I couldn't have asked for anything more than that.

Don't they say you should never share a stage with children or animals, whereas you are doing precisely that eight times a week?
[Laughs] Yes, well, little plastic sheep! The kids are amazing and have learned the show so quickly: the way they absorb the material kind of puts the adults to shame, and most of them have longer CVs [résumés] than some of the adults!

I saw the Donovan-led production in 1991, and many others before and since then, but yours is the first Joseph that delivers the full buoyancy of the material, at least to me: does it feel that way to you?
If you put the show down to its rawest form with just the music and the lyrics, it's such a fun show. It derives from a school production years and years ago and is meant to be enjoyed. I know productions of Joseph in the past have taken it quite seriously, but our approach was, what if we don't take it too seriously and if the utilization of the kids is more tongue in cheek? People say this isn't the Joseph they know and that it feels so brand-new and fresh.

Jason Donovan as Pharoah with the company of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Was it at all nerve-wracking to discover that you were going to be playing opposite a Pharaoh, Jason Donovan, who well before you were born famously played Joseph at this same address?
I get asked if it was intimidating but the truth is the opposite: Jason is such a relaxed and lovely guy and has made me feel so welcome in the same place that was his home for six months. He was the first person to come and throw his arms around me and has been the most amazing support.

What do you make of double Olivier Award winner Sheridan Smith, who plays an irrepressible Narrator and various other roles besides?
The thing about Sheridan is that she never trained and never went to any kind of drama school. I do think she's still underrated and that all you need to do is see her [on TV] as Cilla Black or as Mrs. Biggs to see that she's one of the best actresses of her generation: yes, she has an amazing voice but she also has a gift that you can't teach.

Jac Yarrow & Sheridan Smith with the company of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Have you felt like part of a larger Andrew Lloyd Webber renaissance, given concurrent London revivals this summer of Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, not to mention the forthcoming film of Cats?
I'm so pleased these shows are making a return! For America, Stephen Sondheim is the musical-theater icon but here it's Andrew Lloyd Webber. Everyone knows his shows—they're so famous, so iconic. And it's great that these shows are making a return in ways that allow them to be reimagined.

What do you make of Joseph as a character in terms of making him more than just an earnest young face?
Laurence [Connor, the director] and I had a couple of conversations about who Joseph was or who my Joseph might be, and we totally agreed that we wanted to get away from the idea of him being the typical leading man. I'm quite young and fresh-faced and have the naïve thing going on already, so the idea we had was of Joseph being a dreamer and an outcast not because he's annoying but because his brothers are irritated by Joseph's complete investment in his dreams. He lives on planet Joseph. [Laughs]

How do you look back on the roaring standing ovation you got during the show on opening night?
That's kind of you to say but you know, it totally feels like a dream, a blur. I wasn't nervous, weirdly, having thought I was going to be terrified. It felt like everything I had been preparing for since I was six years old, and I was so excited to do the show that I just whizzed through it.

But surely the response to "Close Every Door" was unlike anything you could have anticipated?
That was an experience I will never forget. I remember holding the position and thinking, I have to do something to stop this. I started to get emotional; it was crazy—completely mindblowing.

Do you have brothers yourself?
No, I have one sister, but it's cool having the guys onstage to interact with. I went to drama school with a couple of guys in the ensemble who were in my year so it was nice to show up and see some familiar faces.

Does showbiz run in any way in your family?
My mum is a schoolteacher and my dad works for a homeless charity back in Cardiff [Wales], where I am from, so they couldn't be further from the profession. But my family is quite theatrical in that they like to have fun: my mum is just a big old fangirl.

Have they been to see the show countless times?
They've been about five times or so, which sounds like quite a lot to me but hasn't really been on a regular basis. I think it's exciting for them to see my dream come true and all the lessons they paid for get to this point. I can't really describe how all that feels to me.

Would you consider moving on from this perhaps to a play, as Adam Garcia did some years ago when he starred at the Palladium in Saturday Night Fever—and then went on directly to do a Christopher Shinn play at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs?
That's exactly the kind of thing I would hope to do. I studied musical theater at Arts Ed [the west London drama school] and am such a musical-theater geek but I'm really a theater geek in general. I've always been interested in all aspects of theater and want very much to do a play.

Before that happens, might you get to keep your rather dazzling "dreamcoat" once this run ends on September 8?
I don't know if I'll get to keep it. I know Jason got to keep his and I would love that, but nothing has been discussed.

In the meantime, is there any truth to the persistent rumor that Joseph is returning this time next year to the Palladium for a second summer run?
No comment.

Jac Yarrow with the company of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)