Dominion Theatre, London – until 31 October 2020
In 1998 The Prince of Egypt became an animated sensation, bagging an Oscar and much critical acclaim. Since then it’s been on a long journey to the London stage. Originally beginning in California in 2017, many changes have been made across the world to bring this current, reimagined production to life.
The plot is made up of the Exodus story, following the child of a Hebrew slave, Moses, who is found in the river and adopted by Pharaoh’s family. All grown up, Moses discovers his real heritage and flees the palace to discover his true purpose in life. It‘s in the vast desert that a case of divine visitation via a burning bush, shows Moses his true mission to free the enslaved Hebrews and take them to the promised land.
Musically Stephen Schwartz’s score is beautiful, with sweeping melodies and evocative patterns, but frequently, the lyrics don’t match up in terms of power; often just pointing out the action, rather than developing it. However, it’s the choral moments which really soar, with ‘Deliver Us’ providing so much power. Almost operatic at times the ensemble does an outstanding job of coming together to perform tight harmonies that fill the cavernous Dominion Theatre.
It’s the ‘telling’ aspect of this musical which makes it fall somewhat flat. Philip LaZebnik’s dialogue is cumbersome, with very little character or narrative development. There are many moments, which although wonderfully performed, do not develop the plot or characters and feel unnecessary, and whilst some moments are over explained by the dialogue or music, others feel undeveloped. Namely the plagues which are projected in rapid succession but are unclear.
It’s safe to say subtlety does not feature in this show and the first act especially feels considerably pantomimic, with the one liners from the film not transferring to stage as effectively. There are also pacing issues, which are resolved a little in act two but do make the musical drag.
However, aside from these issues, there’s no denying that this is a spectacularly well performed musical. Amongst the main plot, there’s a huge focus on the rivalry of Moses and Pharaoh’s birth son, Ramses, which is brought to life excellently by Luke Brady and Liam Tamne. Both actors give their everything to the limited dialogue and create characters which we feel for and are both vocal powerhouses. Christine Allado and Alexia Khadime are accomplished in their performances and perform the Oscar winning song When You Believe brilliantly. As Jethro, Gary Wilmot is underused but excellent in the time he’s given. Credit must also be given to Debbie Kurup, Mercedesz Csampai, Simbi Akande and Jessica Lee who stand out throughout. Mia Lakha is also brilliant in her various young roles and is certainly an up and coming star of stage.
Visually this show is a treat. Kevin Depinet’s hanging set wraps around the auditorium and cleverly makes the vast space feels more enclosed and welcoming. The simplistic design makes use of many projections by Jon Driscoll which are effective at transforming the space feeling grand, lavish and imposing despite not physically being there. The money moments, such as the parting of the red sea and the building of the pyramids are extremely well done.
It’s Sean Cheesman’s choreography which is the real star of The Prince of Egypt. Sharp and so so energetic it’s amazing to watch. The ensemble come together to create various scenes, materials and emotions which tire you out just watching. Even in tableau moments, the precision is clear to see and this has got to be one of the strongest and most energetic ensembles around.
For spectacle and energy, The Prince of Egypt is worth a visit. It’s not going to change your life but it’ll provide a fun few hours of superfluous theatricality that looks and sounds very pretty.
The Prince of Egypt is currently booking at the Dominion Theatre until 31 October 2020
photo credit: Tristram Kenton