The Dreamworks cartoon movie comes back as a full musical with Schwartz Senior writing and Schwartz Junior directing . . . .
The Prince of Egypt 1998 cartoon movie passed me by with neither children young enough nor yet grandchildren to appreciate it, but I was excited by the advance publicity for the new musical with a score by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of Wicked. I was thankful that I knew enough about Moses from school to grasp the basics of the story because otherwise I would have been very muddled instead of merely partially muddled.
The story is a blend of biblical history and new stories but the words for the introductory number were drowned out by poor balance between the many singing on stage and the orchestra. I knew about Moses, the baby in the bullrushes, who in this instance is rescued not by the Pharoah’s Daughter and brought up as her adopted son, but by Queen Tuya (Debbie Kurup). Tuya is Seti, the Pharoah (Joe Dixon)’s wife and they raise Moses as a brother to the heir apparent Prince Ramses (Liam Tamne).
You make think initially you have come to an S and M show as the whips crack and the Hebrew slaves are badly treated, including of course the population controls ordered by the Pharoah of killing babies. The staging of the bullrushes scene has Moses rescued by some blue balletic swans who wouldn’t look out of place in Billy Elliot. The blue is presumably a reference to the Blue Nile but I am still useless at geography. Great blocks of building materials construct the Pyramids.
The Egyptian court is finely dressed although I couldn’t quite see lumbering Joe Dixon as a majestic Pharoah but the amount of gold is appreciated. Birkenstocks must have done a roaring trade in oversize, gold male sandals! Hanging fringe curtains reflect the Egyptians’ predilection for pleating fabric and heads of the Pharoahs are projected right into the auditorium side boxes, as are later screens of hieroglyphs or Egyptian drawings.
Behind the fringing are projections of landscape, often of the desert. A secret room in the temple, ruled by the villainous priest Hotep (the musical star we all love to hate, Adam Pearce, who has finally escaped from shows of Evita) is used by Ramses and Moses. Hotep has some good tricks up his sleeve like turning a staff into a serpent courtesy Chris Fisher illusions. This secret room has a line of human caryatids holding the beam and, seeing them only from the rear, they are a fun design feature.
Sibling rivalry features in the first scenes as Moses (Luke Brady) shows up the Pharoah’s legitimate and biological son in almost every task. A chariot race is staged Bob Fosse style with dancers forming the chariots and with Moses and Ramses competing. Ramses’ bride is chosen for him: Nefertari (a beautiful Tanisha Spring) and Moses’s heart is captured by the caged dancing Midianite princess Tzipporah (Christine Allado on top form). Tzipporah is the daughter of Jethro (Gary Wilmot in headband) leading a bunch of Midianite hippies.
The Hebrew slave choreography is rather too much confined to rolling around on the stage in costumes that look as if they have been made out of assorted cat fur. The whole show is very busy with only the love duets calming things down a bit. I liked much of the score with its reliance on Israeli or Middle Eastern rhythms but Schwartz’s lyrics are mundane and don’t soar as much as his tunes.
I loved the singing voices of the main women, Christine Allado, Alexia Khadime as Miriam and Tanisha Spring as Queen Nefertari and the tunes would be better appreciated with a better book and less razzmatazz. The hit song “When You Believe” is sung superbly by Alexia Khadime and Christine Allado. The stage briefly lights up with the burning bush scene, the flames are dancers, the waters of the Nile turn red with blood and the Red Sea parts to let the Hebrews through. The number of plagues are very reduced but Hotep is hit badly with red, oozing pustulent boils. Let’s move on!
The night I saw it, the audience were ecstatic, on their feet and cheering happily. I found it fun too, maybe not in quite the way that the Schwartzes intended. Time will tell!
One Weak Link
Footprints on the Sand
One Weak Link (Reprise)
Dance to the Day
All I Ever Wanted
The Laws of the Gods
Make It Right
Moses in the Dessert
Through Heaven’s Eyes
Never in a Million Years
Act One Finale
Through Heaven’s Eyes (Reprise)
The Naming Ceremony
Always on Your Side
Deliver Us (Reprise)
The Plagues For the Rest of My Life – Moses
When You Believe
Act Two Finale
The Prince of Egypt
Book by Philip Lazebnik
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Based on the Dreamworks Animation Film
Directed by Scott Schwartz
Christian Alexander Knight
Director: Scott Schwartz
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman
Music Supervisor and Arrangements: Dominick Amendum
Vocal Arrangements: Emily Marshall
Musical Director: Dave Rose
Orchestrations: August Eriksmoen
Set Designer: Kevin Depinet
Costume Design: Ann Hould-Ward
Illusions: Chris Fisher
Lighting Design: Mike Billings
Sound Design: Gareth Owen
Projection Design: John Driscoll
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Booking from 11th February 2021 to 4th September 2021
268 Tottenham Court Road
London W1T 7AQ
Tube : Tottenham Court Road
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the
Dominion Theatre on 18th February 2020