Dreamworks first traditionally animated film, The Prince of Egypt was a critically acclaimed success, although it’s never fully attained the same kind of status as Disney rivals. The stage adaptation has been a long time coming and with two religious themed musicals already under his belt, Stephen Schwartz adds another ten songs to the five he originally wrote for the movie, and his son, Scott Schwartz, directs. Having originally had a small try out in Silicon Valley, the now fully formed The Prince of Egypt makes it’s premiere at The Dominion Theatre in London.
There are moments in The Prince of Egypt which are truly stunning, but there are just as many that fall flat. The Dominion is a huge stage to fill and clearly this production has had everything thrown at it to make sure that stage is filled, but behind the glitter, all is not gold.
I’m not sure I actually remember ever seeing the film, and perhaps there’s a reason for that. It’s the story of how Moses deserted his brother Ramses to free the Hebrews from slavery. The problem is the Book of Exodus has been watered down to the extent that any kind of emotional draw is completely lost. Philip LaZebnik’s book is a bit like Nickelodeon does the Bible, I’m sure I heard Moses say ‘Whoa!’, and the first act is so banal that it could have been written by an enthusiastic Sunday School teacher.
The second act is considerably better, and we get to see more of the cut and thrust of the tension between the brothers, and the plight of the Hebrews is more fully explored. We also get to see more of the wonderful Christine Allado as Tzipporah, and her performance is worth the ticket price alone.
The real draw for this musical is the score from Stephen Schwartz, it really is a masterpiece, beautifully layered and impactful it goes a long way in making up for the musical’s other failings (such as some pretty lame illusions). The show’s marketing makes a big deal about ‘When You Believe,’ one of the most commercially successful songs from the film, and it’s definitely worth the wait, because when it comes close to the end of the second act, it lifts the entire production.
But there are many more fantastic songs, ‘Deliver Us’ or ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes’ are great examples of how Schwartz has written a richly layered score. So too is ‘Footprints On The Sand’ sung by Moses and later reprised by Moses and Ramses. The main drive of the story is the relationship between these two brothers, and Luke Brady and Liam Tamne do not disappoint with their performances.
The Prince of Egypt may also have one of the hardest working ensembles in the West End, Sean Cheesman’s energetic choreography certainly puts them to the test, but they also make up part of the set, including the burning bush. It’s little touches, like the bush, or the parting of the red sea which help to make this musical visually stunning. It’s a little disappointing that so much relies on projections, with physical set in short supply, but the truth is, it does look fantastic.
There are certainly issues with this new musical, the book being the biggest. But that said, this biblical story still looks right at home up on that Dominion Theatre stage, and audiences are sure to love those big ensemble numbers and be swayed by the fantastic score. The Prince of Egypt is certainly epic, and needs to be seen to be believed.
Main Image: Luke Brady as Moses in The Prince of Egypt credit Matt Crockett ©DWA LLC