Based on the hit 1998 Dreamworks film, with a score by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), The Prince of Egypt is a bold and stunning new production, now showing at the Dominion Theatre.
Starring Luke Brady, Liam Tamne, Christine Allado and Alexia Khadime
Enjoying its press night this evening, The Prince of Egypt retells the biblical story of Moses, from his childhood being raised as a prince of Egypt, before fulfilling his ultimate destiny by freeing the Israelites from slavery. Where all male-born Hebrew children are slaughtered, Yocheved places her newborn son Moses in a basket and sends him down the Nile, where he is discovered by Queen Tuya, who adopts the child and raises him as a Prince. He grows up with his older brother, Prince Rameses, until he discovers that he is born a Hebrew. Fleeing from Egypt, Moses settles in Midian, before he receives his calling to free his own people from slavery.
The stage more than matches the epic scale of the Biblical story, with a tilted stage floor (Kevin Depinet) and stunning projections (Jon Driscoll) clearly demonstrating where the action is taking place. Set pieces are moved around seamlessly by the ensemble, while the lighting (Mike Billings) nicely complements the action. The Act 1 finale, in which both Moses and Rameses hurtle towards their respective destinies is particularly stunning in the way that it is choreographed and presented, even featuring flames lapping at the feet of the actors. Furthermore, the action climax that accompanies the parting of the Red Sea is breathtaking.
Many of the songs are powerful and emotive. The opening number, Deliver Us, relays the longing and desperation of the Hebrew slaves as they seek liberation from their plight. The epic orchestrations (August Eriksmoen) and massive ensemble only serve to enhance this, while show-stopping When You Believe is, of course, a highlight. Also of note is Moses’ All I Ever Wanted, sensitively and delicately brought to life by Luke Brady. It is worth noting that the most memorable songs are the ones lifted from the film’s soundtrack and, while many of the new songs are delightful, such as Never in a Million Years, none of them quite reach the epic heights of the originals.
Indeed, at times, I often felt that the songs got in the way of potentially potent material. For example, a key confrontation between Rameses and Moses (to be fair, there are a couple) is somewhat held back by mediocre duet Make it Right, in which Rameses begs Moses to come home and continue to behave as his brother, even though they have both discovered the truth of Moses’ birth. It is a potentially very powerful moment, as Rameses is hugely vulnerable. Ultimately, Moses turns his back on Rameses and leaves, which really contextualises Rameses’ behaviour towards Moses in Act 2, but is horrendously understated here, when perhaps a scene might have worked better than a musical moment. Moreover, in Act 2 number The Plagues, Moses’ plagues upon Egypt come so thick and fast it’s almost impossible to keep up and the final plague to take the first born son of every family is somewhat stripped of its poignancy by the exposition-heavy number. Moses’ follow-up number For the Rest of My Life is reflective and solemn, but perhaps it would have been more emotional for the audience to dwell upon the reactions of the Egyptian mothers, like Nefertari, who have lost their children, instead of upon Moses. It is definitely a moment of such high emotion that it almost begs to be sung about, but I am not entirely convinced that the song that has made it into the show is the correct one here.
Pacing is somewhat of an issue with this musical. It takes the entire first act before Moses sets his intention to set the Hebrew slaves free, which is an obvious act break, but leaves a lot to be done in Act 2. Tzipporah manages to go from sex slave to married love interest in about two lines of dialogue, even though it takes Moses 50 minutes to work out that he is, actually, Moses. Moses and Tzipporah sing a love duet right before the act break after sharing approximately one and a half scenes together, which doesn’t really land in the way that it should because you haven’t been exposed to the characters enough for it to feel earned. Another element that is downplayed is, bizarrely, the role of God within the tale. While the Burning Bush section is played out, in which Moses is told to return to Egypt and free the Hebrews, other than this, Moses’ role as God’s messenger is fairly downplayed. When the plagues are enacted, it is made to seem as if Moses himself is performing this acts, instead of God acting through him. Furthermore, I also feel like Moses could have shown more reticence at having to carry out the final plague, considering this would entail the death of his nephew, than was played out. Were Rameses to have been portrayed as more villainous and unlikable, then it would make sense, but the sympathetic lens through which we are presented Rameses makes this choice somewhat bizarre.
The performers really deliver throughout this musical. Luke Brady wonderfully conveys Moses’ inner conflict and turmoil as he accepts his destiny. Christine Allado is also electric and charismatic as somewhat thinly-written love interest Tzipporah. In many performer’s hands, I’m sure that she would come across as much less engaging to the audience. Rameses is given great pathos through Liam Tamne’s empathetic performance, while Alexia Khadime shines as Moses’ sister, Miriam. Altogether, the entire ensemble carry this show with boundless energy and acrobatic flair, delivering the sublime choreography of Sean Cheesman.
It is a brilliant musical, I can say that with utmost certainty. It is full to the brim of spectacle and wonder, of high emotional stakes and soaring vocals and instrumentation. It is not without its flaws, and lots of these are inherent within the Biblical narrative, though there are certain parts of this adaptation that don’t quite deliver on the full emotional potential. The entire success of the musical relies upon breathing three-dimensional life into these fabled figures, yet there are often so many ideas that it doesn’t quite give the big themes the time to breathe that they deserve.
The Prince of Egypt is now showing at the Dominion Theatre, with booking extended to 31 October 2020. For booking, click here.