People involved with Joseph And The Technicolor Dreamcoat tend to talk about the musical rather as they might discuss a fabulous pink fake fur. It is 'fluffy', 'camp', and something which, if you feel remotely tired and depressed, you just slip into for the evening and you can hardly help but feel better. No one, but no one, pretends it is deep or meaningful, it just feels good. And rather like our soft, imaginary stole, no one is sure how Hong Kong is going to take to this West End fabrication, whose arrival in this part of the world has coincided neatly with that of the economic downturn. It is fun, it is happy, it is well-performed, but is its guileless exuberance going to appeal to Asia in recession? Joseph is currently playing in Singapore, on a brief run intended both to be a warm-up for Hong Kong, and help the Asian leg of the tour take a decent profit. On the first count it has been successful - the cast who are, except for the principals, mainly new to the show, are now well into the stride of a long-ish tour. But on the second count . . . suffice it to say that Hong Kong will have to do very well indeed when it opens at the end of the month for the accountants at Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group to break into a smile. Critics have enjoyed it, and audiences have come out humming (albeit the polite Singaporean hum) but tickets have needed an imaginative set of discount packages to attract the credit cards, partly owing to the near-absence of ticket-buying neighbours coming in from troubled Malaysia and Indonesia. Last Wednesday night, when I saw it, the auditorium was not embarrassingly empty, but it was certainly not crammed with merrymakers, even though by the second half the foot-tapping started to take the chill off the Kallang Theatre's air-conditioners. 'The reaction has been different from what we're used to,' admitted Linzi Hateley as she daubed on stage makeup to prepare for her role as narrator - which accompanies David Dixon's Joseph as lead in the show. In London, where she was in the original cast for Joseph 's revival in 1991, audiences would be dancing in the aisles. 'Last time I did the show was in England and they went crazy for it. But in Singapore it's polite: they enjoy it, but we can't tell that when we're on stage.' When Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice bought back the rights to Joseph for nearly 10,000 times their original sale price of 100 guineas (about HK$1,360) no one thought the revival production would last. It was just a big celebration of the return of the prodigal musical; the cast were given a three-month contract, and allowed to wonder if it would last even that long. Two-and-a-half years later the show was still on the road - with Philip Scofield instead of Jason Donovan - and Hateley decided to take some time out. 'I'd loved it: it was the most fun thing I'd done,' said the singer who landed her first role - the lead in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Carrie - on her 17th birthday, and had gone on from there. 'It was more like being in a pop show than a musical. Even the CD went platinum in a week,' she said. 'But it was time for something new.' So she swapped dinner suit for Wonderbra and became Rizo in Grease, followed by the rather different role of Eponine in Les Miserables. When she came back for this Asian tour, Hateley was nervous. Not about the role - she had been practising in her living room, she said, and realised she still knew it inside out - but about returning to something she had enjoyed so much. 'It's dangerous to go back and hope you'll have the same kind of fun the second time round.' Hateley will leave the company after Hong Kong. On her dressing room wall is a big handmade card 'To Linzi . . . 'from your boys'.' The photo is of her partner, and their dog Duke, she said, 'and I miss them both horribly. I couldn't be away for a whole year: six months is enough.' Hateley was as lively and extroverted in person as she appeared on stage, although when I said so she looked a bit surprised, almost as if extroverted was something she had always wanted to be but never felt she had quite managed. 'I'm actually one of the most boring people: I tend to go to bed early and not socialise much.' Part of the reason for that is to guard her voice: the narrator has to punch energy through the theatre, and sleep-deprived vocal chords are not going to help. 'It's bad enough with all these hot-cold air conditioning changes. I'm not sure I'd withstand late nights as well.' She has been sick a few times, and her role has a dedicated understudy 'who is not like me at all'. Shena Sanders, the alternative narrator, is tall with long legs, Hateley said. 'I'm a real shorty. When I saw Shena playing the narrator during one of the previews here, I could suddenly see what the costume was meant to look like,' she joked. The narrator's role - in this musical designed originally for boys at a prep school in London - is not only to tell the Biblical story of Joseph who was so much his father's favourite son that his 11 brothers sold him to slavery, only for him to get his revenge in the second half. It is also to allow the musical fantasy of Egypt being Memphis, Pharaoh Elvis, Potiphar Noel Coward, and Joseph's family closely related to the Dolly Partons. 'It's like a tour of modern musical history,' Hateley said. Another energising force in the company is the musical director Robert Purvis. Purvis is the first person to dance in any performance of Joseph : he leaps on to his conductors' rostrum and for the first few minutes of the show - during the overture - he is a striking figure bobbing and conducting energy into the orchestral pit. At first he seemed larger than life. 'Darling you've been monopolising,' he jokingly accused Hateley, as he led me away and to his dressing room for another pre-performance interview. But away from the corridors that were beginning to fill up with the cast and crew, and where he was drawn to practise his own brand of cheer-up clowning, Purvis was more serious and reflective. He, like Hateley, had spent years with earlier incarnations of Joseph, working with Scofield, Dixon and Aled Jones - the former choirboy star with a cheeky grin, 'now a baritone and in the field competing for the roles like everyone else'. And like Hateley, Purvis had also taken time out - in his case to write two children's operas based on Oscar Wilde stories. He is aware that his role is to cue in a high-energy show - through his own exuberance. 'There's always an adrenaline rush before the show. And there are always some people more down than others and I have to work on getting them up again,' said Purvis, who added later that if playing the clown was what it took, then that was what he would do - and happily - 'because I'm totally theatrical'. He was not as fretful about the unoccupied seats as some of the accountants. 'I'd notice it if it made the cast despondent, but that's not really happening. 'If you have empty seats in the West End then everyone gets scared because it's their jobs, but on a tour it's built to withstand that: it'll keep on going.' Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. April 30-late June. Tue-Sun, 8.15pm and Sat-Sun, 3pm. Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. $325-$750 (family packages available). Call 2734-9009 or 2805-2804.