Thursday 27 February 2020

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre

The sets are lavish; the costumes sumptuous; there's fire and projections and special effects. The Prince Of Egypt is a spectacle of magical theatrics. But what's happening underneath it all?

Based on the 1998 Dreamworks animated film of the same name (mainly remembered for its Mariah and Whitney duet), it's not just the story of Moses saving the Hebrews from the Egyptians but of two brothers in conflict and the tension between family and duty. Luke Brady and Liam Tamne are strong leading men as the proudly responsible Moses and spoilt Ramses, but they cannot escape the cartoon characterisation of the film. Neither can Christine Allado as stroppy love interest Tzipporah.

The Lion King set the bar for animated theatrical adaptations over two decades ago, a bar that is yet to be matched. The Prince Of Egypt is remarkably similar: an outcast member of the royal family who must return to his people to make amends, complete with a spirit guide to show the way (here voiced by the people rather than a lion). There's a healthy dash of Wicked too and not only for Stephen Schwartz's score - Moses' story is a similar triumph of the outsider.

Speaking of the score, it mostly follows that from the film with some new additions. There's plenty of typical Egyptian flair and Jewish melodic writing to provide character, where memorable tunes are missing. Up-tempo dance numbers are when the show is at its best, but as soon as emotions rise to the surface, it all descends into gushing melodies and slushy Hollywood romance that loses what makes the music distinctive.

Director Scott Schwartz's aim was to bring humanity to the story. That's been taken literally by choreographer Sean Cheesman. The ensemble are used to great effect, morphing into chariots, undulating rivers, and shifting sands. It lends the production a balletic quality with some beautiful stagecraft, matched by shimmering lighting and effects. It's surely a visual feast.

Yet the first half is leaden with exposition that lasts far too long, while the second half races through plagues and drama alike in a swift montage. There's a glimpse of real emotion eventually with a string of ballads that has Moses questioning his faith, the mourning of tragic deaths, and the predictable climax of 'When You Believe' that Allado and Alexia Khadime assuredly nail. Finally this Prince of Egypt tugs at the heartstrings and both Schwartzs are given a chance to stretch their musical muscles outside of the film's confines.

Until then it feels a little soulless, its focus on visual spectacle more than the real emotion the narrative deserves. As blockbuster theatre with brilliant performances of somewhat shallow material though, it's surely a success.


Watch: The Prince Of Egypt runs at the Dominion Theatre until October 2020.

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre

The Prince Of Egypt @ The Dominion Theatre
Photos: Tristram Kenton