Dominion Theatre (venue)
26 February 2020 (released)
28 February 2020
Based on the Award-winning animated movie, The Prince of Egypt (1998) has arrived in the vast space of the Dominion Theatre stage after a five years in development across the pond. Composer Stephen Schwartz with four decades of success behind him is probably best known for ‘Wicked’ ‘Godspell’ and ‘Pippin.’ Although the animation film was a big hit in itself, there are very few people who don’t know his Oscar winning theme tune, ‘When you believe’ made famous by Maria Carey, Whitney Houston (or even X factor winner Leon Jackson). For the first time, the lyrics of that yearning ballad make sense, sung by the ‘Hebrews’ praying for freedom. ‘Every night we prayed with no proof anyone can hear… There can be miracles if you believe.’ Who knew it was literal!
The original team of composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz and writer Philip Lazebnik return for the stage show with ten new songs added to the movie soundtrack and the composer’s son, Scott Schwartz directing. There are countless great (and some not so great) musicals based on bible stories and this one from the book of Exodus, is certainly epic in scope. Opening with a rousing chorus number, ‘Deliver Us’ sung by the Hebrew slaves, Moses is passed from hand to hand in his basket until he reaches the foot of Queen Tuya. From this moment he is brought up in privilege as a brother to Ramses, son of Seti the Pharaoh. When they are grown up the brothers are torn apart by their destinies; Moses (Luke Brady) to lead his people out of Egypt and Ramses (Liam Tamne) to take on the mantle of Pharaoh.
Adapting film to stage always takes some ingenuity but animated film to stage is an even bigger leap. For designer Kevin Depinet and there are plenty of challenges; think vast deserts, deep tombs and the parting of the waves to liberate the Israelites. There are some stunning moments including John Driscoll’s vast walls of hieroglyphic projections with giant statues that reach out into the auditorium but at times, including the parting of the waves, there is something manufactured about the visual effect, more stadium pageant than West End theatre. Even the chorus of impressive dancers and acrobats who can build worlds with their bodies have an anonymity that rarely connects on an emotional level.
That said, there are plenty of thrills including real flames and magic and after a slow first half, the talented cast begin to touch the heart of a story about identity, purpose and freedom. Stand out moments include Tanisha Spring as Nefertari singing, ‘Heartless’ a new Schwartz song that’s bound to become a classic, and the company performing ‘Through Heaven’s Eye’s with a powerful message and a stonking dance in the desert. Although personal tragedies, plagues, famines and slavery feel cleaned up to a Disney (sorry Dreamworks) polish, the finale of ‘When you Believe’ is still irresistible.