The Prince of Egypt at Dominion Theatre
DreamWorks’s new musical adaptation of their beloved 1998 animated feature struggles to deliver any miracles of its own. Beyond the fiercely performed renditions of Stephen Schwartz’s original music there are only crowd-pleasing spectacles, sprinkled with cheap redemptive sentimentality.
As carefree Moses (Luke Brady) discovers his Hebrew heritage and plans to lead the enslaved out of Egypt, his older “brother” Ramses (Liam Tamne) now bares the weight of living up to his kingly ancestors’ lineage. Revisiting this 20-year-old reimagining of “Exodus”, Schwartz and screenwriter Philip LaZebnik try to tell the tale anew by beefing up the central characters’ brotherly affection.
It leads to the same clash between Pharaoh and Deliverer, but their rift is unsatisfyingly softened. Imparted in unmemorable duets in the first act, the new songs end up serving as tedious fillers between the film’s standout numbers (Deliver Us and All I Ever Wanted). By the second act, Schwartz has desperately added in the fresh material. Moses’ and Ramses’ duet The Plagues underwhelms when a stale, more recent version is laid over the original’s unsettling choral chanting.
Unlike the 90s cartoon, any darker biblical wrath is driven out by a ridiculously sugary and comedically flat script. By revising the original story toward reconciliation, there is the faint impression that a favourable depiction of people leaving to make their own destiny elsewhere might not endear itself in the current political climate, especially with London’s West End audiences.
Despite Schwartz’s production being overblown with pyrotechnics and Ann Hould-Watt’s garish costume design, Kevin Depinet’s stark, earthy set immerses us in theatrical antiquity. Achieved partly through Jon Driscoll’s imposing digital projection, it’s the physical energy of the ensemble that really brings the atmosphere to life. The performers dance skilfully through slaves, statues and sand dunes under Sean Cheesman’s exciting and entrancing choreography. While the tableaus can feel cluttered and chaotic, the hieroglyphic-like poses and imaginative prop-work are wonderfully evocative.
The vocals also remain strong. Brady hits the right notes and there are powerful solo performances from Christine Allado (Tzippora), Alexia Khadime (Miriam) and Tanisha Spring (Nefertari), even if there’s a tendency among all the principals to overact. Gary Wilmot’s Jethro remains a twinkling, kindly delight with his sweetly, uplifting rendition of Heaven’s Eyes. The cast reach goose-bump inducing heights during When You Believe, although considering this song’s award-winning prominence, it isn’t that miraculous.
Otherwise, this committed cast suffer the plagues of an ill-conceived production. Deliver Us they implored. Yes – away from the theatre.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
The Prince of Egypt is at Dominion Theatre from 5th February until 12th September 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Prince of Egypt here: