The Theatreguide.London Review
Dominion Theatre 2020
Bit of disclosure here. Despite repeated forays, me and the kids have never been able to get beyond the first ten minutes of the DreamWorks animated film The Prince of Egypt, on which this musical at London's Dominion Theatre is based.
For all the dramatic potential of Moses letting the Tribe of Israel go from bondage and leading them out of Egypt, there's little humanity in what boils down to a stand-off between living-god Pharaoh and one-true-god Yahweh playing Risk with their nations.
Second disclosure, since The Prince of Egypt the musical isn't really a regular show, this isn't really a regular review.
So, the good news – if you're looking for a varied and thoughtful night out on the West End and don't fancy an intense play or reductive musical, then The Prince of Egypt is a rewarding night out for adults and family alike
(The two hours 30 minutes or so length means the littler ones will struggle, however, so take snacks).
My 11-year-old said it was 'good', the only objection being that the ending 'wasn't historically accurate', by which he meant that they copped out doing the big final scene.
The parting of the Red Sea here ended up as a couple of hoisted actors with string watery skirts, insipid side projections and lighting, which hardly makes for a resounding finale and certainly not at these ticket prices.
Don't let that spoil the rest of the show for you, though, delivered as it is by a warm-hearted cast who are the central reason this show works.
But the bad news – if you're a serious musical fan, then this is an unfocused patchwork of a musical that looks like a touring revival going through the motions with its 19th cast and absent producers who can't be bothered to maintain tired props, set and costumes.
The set and scenes are basically modern opera, centred on a massive raked slab on which most of the action takes place. But it's all big ideas realised on the cheap, hoping we won't notice. The projected graphics, the costumes, the set are none of what they promise to be.
On the night, the most basic props didn't do what they were supposed to do. The magic tricks are out of a box from your local pound shop, while the cheap spray-painted polystyrene blocks look exactly that.
Music-wise, Stephen Schwartz has taken most of his original songs from the film and added new numbers to come up with a two-acter fleshed out by a book by Philip Lazebnik. Lyrics/wordswise it's wooden and musically flat, and Schwartz's new songs add little.
His layering of connecting motifs might have worked for a film like Lord of the Rings, but are too subtle for a live West End show. And though Lazebnik brings a pleasingly fast-pace TV-style to the scenes, his book is mere workmanship and seriously trips the cast up.
The cast's mission also seems to be providing workarounds for Scott Schwartz's absent direction. The songs, for example, only come to life when singers are confident to make them their own regardless of the director's ideas.
Tzipporah's Dance to the Day works only because a performer like Christine Allado couldn't do a duff number. Even a proven hit like When You Believe would have sunk under the morass if not for Allado and Alexia Khadime's Miriam pulling it back up.
Gary Wilmot stands out as Jethro, as does Mercedesz Csampai as Yocheved, but while Luke Brady's Moses and Liam Tamnes's Ramses click as performers, they are stymied by the triple-whammy of direction, script and songs from making anything credible of their characters’'bromance and the gods' testing of their bond.
For all the money needed to put on a show of this size, it's amazing how it hasn't been responsibly spent in any area you look at, bar the casting. The producers even sought to take credit for the diversity of the cast, which is strange since they'd be in serious trouble if it wasn't diverse, given the North African/Middle Eastern setting.
Does any of this matter? Is this show worth such a long error list? Absolutely, because if this is a major musical launched in what is presumably its final form after several reworks in one of the biggest houses in the West End, then it's hard to take producers DreamWorks Theatricals seriously. The desultory poster, like a 90s MySpace wallpaper screengrab, is a big clue.
In fact, you might think that The Prince of Egypt is designed to be a showcase not for a Broadway transfer but for the lucrative vistas of the opening musicals market in Europe.
And that might explain the cutting of corners, putting half-arsed material onstage and assumption that a non-Broadway audience will pay for the privilege. Because a Broadway audience wouldn't let this get beyond opening night in its present state.
There’s a moment in mid Act II where the entire cast stands arraigned in heartfelt silence before the audience, having given their all. The number they've just sung is irrelevant, what's important is that they have hit an emotional, climatic point at which the show should end regardless of plot – and everyone can go home happy.
We grabbed our coats – but then they stirred and carried on for another 20 minutes. Even the first-night whoopers were flummoxed, to be honest.
So yes, it does matter that director and producers think a London audience will pay good money to debug a show that is little more than a workshop production.
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