Robert Tanitch reviews The Prince of Egypt at Dominion Theatre, London W1
Such are the box-office receipts The Prince of Egypt has already added an extra 7 weeks to its original announced run.
Stephen Schwartz’s musical is based on the excellent DreamWorks animated film of the same name which was based on the Book of Exodus. The strength of the film was its distinctive and brilliant art work.
Schwartz, who composed music for Wicked and Godspell, provides a new score with soaring ballads and pounding rhythms. The songs include Deliver Us and the Oscar-winning When You Believe.
Moses and Ramses, two adolescent brothers and the best of buddies, become sworn enemies when they grow up and Moses decides to lead the enslaved children of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land of milk and honey.
The story has often been told, not least on film. Cecil B. deMille directed The Ten Commandments twice. The 1956 version had Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses and it wasn’t any good apart from the epic spectacle.
At the Dominion Theatre the lighting designer Mike Billings and the Illusion designer Gareth Owen and the projections of Jon Driscoll also produce some spectacular effects but the script is poor.
Scott Schwartz, the director, said he wanted to see the story through contemporary lens rather than a 3000-year-old Bible pageant. The dialogue is colloquial and very preppy.
Luke Brady (Moses) and Liam Tamne (Ramses), vocally, give their all; but their military uniforms make them look as if they are dressed for a musical comedy rather than a drama in Ancient Egypt.
The story presents formidable challenges. How do you do a chariot race and the parting of the Red Sea on stage?
At Drury Lane Theatre in 1902 in a production of Ben Hur they actually had live horses galloping on a moving platform. Here chariot and horses are created with the dancers’ bodies and the dancers carry Moses and Ramses round the stage.
The acrobatic dancers, over-choreographed by Sean Cheesman, play a key role in providing the different settings and they have to do a lot of stage managing, endlessly lugging blocks, creating temples and pyramids with their bodies, and generally crawling all over the stage. The burning bush is created by the dancers bunched together in a blazing red light and waving their arms and hands.
The show is overlong. It lasts 2 hours 45 minutes. Much of the exhausting and extraneous choreography could be cut.