Ray Rackham reviews Prince Of Egypt by Stephen Schwartz and Philip Lazebnik now running at London’s Dominion Theatre.
The book of Exodus doesn’t itself scream Musical Theatre. In fact, in following the theatrical adage that content should dictate form, it could be argued that the legend of Moses, with its plagues and murders and miracles, would be better served in being told through the operatic form. Yet, over twenty years since the Dreamworks’ film bearing the same title (though not as extensive a score), and after a gestation period of over half a decade, Stephen Schwartz and Philip Lazebnik’s theatrical musicalisation of The Prince Of Egypt has made its premiere on the West End stage.
The show retains much of the magic of its filmic predecessor. It tells its own version of the Moses story in an often dizzying marriage of theatrical trickery and suspended disbelief. Scott Schwartz and Sean Cheesman’s direction and choreography suggest an almost sculptured approach in its story-telling, which is very effective and enables the human form to represent everything from chariots to rivers. Complex patterns and blocks of movement weave deliciously into the narrative and are a delight to watch.
A spirited cast, led by Luke Brady’s charming Moses, are indeed excellent, and commit to the physical, spiritual and – at times – temporal demands of the piece. Alex Khadime’s fearless Miriam and Christine Allado’s fiery Tzipporah deliver the most known song in the score – When You Believe – with such assured vocals that it transcends its accidental pop song legacy and returns the song to the embrace of the play. Tanisha Spring makes the most of a poorly sketched Nefertari and performs perhaps the most memorable of the show’s new numbers, Heartless.
Schwartz’s score dances between Egyptian folk, pop and even Klezmer; is full of delightful rhythmic beats and pulses; and whilst reminiscent of Children of Eden is very much it’s own being. There is plenty of lyrical wit but also some real clunkers (“market/park it”). Lazebnik’s book walks a precarious highwire between worthiness and pantomime and isn’t always successful. Kevin Depinet’s set is a combination of physical sparsity and projection overload, and at points, Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes take their inspiration less from the Hellenistic and more from a Met Gala, and wouldn’t look out of place on an early ‘90s Versace catwalk.
The irony is that Prince Of Egypt truly soars when it is at its narrative weightiest, and most epic, exploring the pre-Christian tale of gods and prophets with honesty and flair; however in the very valiant attempt to turn this tale into a very human story, it lurches too close and too often to sentimentality, and in doing so adds padding to its already excessive running time. There are many moments to celebrate here, but on reflection, it takes too long to get to them, and with a largely unmemorable score and book, one can’t help but question if it’s really worth the wait.