So many people, including myself, have been waiting for this production to happen for years. It is finally here! I am a lover of animated films, particularly hand-drawn animation, and The Prince of Egypt was a significant contributor to this alongside Disney and a couple of Fox films. Little did I know when I first watched it as a child, however, that the gorgeous score accompanying the awesome animation was written by none other than Stephen Schwartz, also known as the composer of a little-known show called Wicked. When I heard that this production was finally getting off the ground with the continued contribution of Schwartz, and after hearing ‘Footprints on the Sand’, I knew this show could not be missed.
I’m just adding in here that I didn’t realise just how long this review would become as I just left this show with so many thoughts. So, I’ve started with the positives as this section predominately revolves around the cast, ensemble, choreography and staging. Following this, I’ve included my thoughts on what just simply didn’t work for me when I saw this show. I’ve worked hard to clarify my feelings as much as possible, despite the length; however, if you want to discuss anything further, do get in touch with me.
As you can tell, I approached the show from the perspective of a lover of the film but purely because of its music, awe and narrative. I did attend the show with my partner who had purposely held off on watching the film so that his opinion wouldn’t be swayed, and we came out with similar views as outlined in this review.
“Journey through the wonders of Ancient Egypt as two young men raised together as brothers in a kingdom of privilege, find themselves suddenly divided by a secret past. One must rule as Pharaoh, the other must rise up and free his true people; both face a destiny that will change history forever.”The Prince of Egypt Synopsis
Luke Brady is the key highlight of the show. With a voice like butter and detailed acting choices, Brady effortlessly establishes himself as a leading man. Those detailed acting choices were called upon regularly during this show due to the efforts made by certain lyrical decisions and changes to surprisingly isolate Moses from God’s strategies but also his Egyptian family despite the emphasis of the show pulling in the other direction to bring the brothers particularly together. Overall, a running theme throughout the show is the sheer effort of the cast to bring each of the components together through gorgeous vocals, and Brady leads by example throughout.
Following very closely in Brady’s footsteps are the ensemble. Oh, my goodness they work incredibly hard. Every ensemble works very hard, however, the sheer amount of insane movements they pull off as if it is the most natural thing in the world and the speed of their transitions throughout these intricate movements just blew my mind. The ensemble is also incorporated to great effect into the staging not only intricately moving stage features but also becoming those features bringing the show’s reliance on them up to a whole other level. The choreography of this show is crazy across the board, and the fact that these dancers make it look so easy is incredible. If you are a fan of energetic, impactful choreography and want to see what an ensemble can truly do, especially if you’re aspiring to be a stage actor, then you must catch this show while it is in town.
Both Christine Allado and Alexia Khadime give spirited and empowered performances as Tzipporah and Miriam respectively. I’m so glad that their key song together, of course, the iconic ‘When You Believe’, is being performed consistently across their public performances and I feel that this number is going to be the key impactful moment of this show for so many people. That is a lot of weight for these two women to carry throughout the show, but both performances are nuanced and powerful, even in the more subtle moments, and they are a safe and comfortable partnership to balance the show. However, I just want to highlight a standout performance for me. I loved Tanisha Spring’s Nefertari. She just embodied her character’s regal grace with such poise and elegance and seamlessly ebbed between an influential wife and heartbroken mother. She shows the multiple levels beneath an initially one-dimensional character and, in my opinion, her character development is far more successful and engaging than some others. Spring truly shows you can make an impact regardless of the initial size of a part.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the performances of Oliver Lidert as Jethro and Soophia Foroughi as Yocheved, both on as understudies for the performance I attended. Whoever performs in either of these tracks has the task of standing out during an ensemble focused number be it ‘Deliver Us’ or ‘Through Heavens Eyes’. Some may assume this is easy but, as I discussed above, with an ensemble of this calibre pulling of insane choreography this is a tricky task. However, both ensure that their strong vocals, imbued with either suffering or happiness in equal measure, stand out, and you remember even their smallest moments.
Right, we need to talk about the staging. Look at it! It’s truly epic, and the delivery is very intricately thought through. I am not the biggest fan of projections completely replacing larger set pieces or being wholly relied upon for scene transitions, so I will admit I was sceptical when I heard this was the primary set design for The Prince of Egypt. I love the idea of the hanging edges allowing for the projections to really stretch out and make the most of the huge space of the Dominion. I was also happy to see that the projections chosen were also appropriately atmospheric and subtle to emphasise the central staging. The central space surprisingly didn’t look weirdly like a random rock in the middle of an Egyptian palace as much as I thought it would and all I’m going to say is that it has it’s own tricks to pull out for the really epic moments. Again, I would highly recommend this show if you want to see an interesting take on staging and projection.
However, I can’t deny there were some missed opportunities as ‘Deliver Us’ would have benefited from the projections of the workspace used later in the show to demonstrate the scale of the task they were undertaking. I understand the later depiction of half-built monuments illustrated the time between ‘Deliver Us’ and Moses killing the Egyptian slave driver, however, ‘Deliver Us’ deserved more than only the movement of blocks to illustrate the scale of the Hebrew’s enslavement and enforced work load.
Unfortunately, I can’t deny that I wasn’t impressed with the new songs written for the show. Only one new song, ‘Footprints on the Sand’ is a new favourite and, even then, the part that impressed me was the section of the song released for promotion prior to opening and the beginning half left a lot to be desired. Some new songs, such as ‘For the Rest of My Life’, ‘Heartless’ and ‘Never in a Million Years’, are brought to life by the cast as they find their character there, however, I haven’t found them resonating with me or sticking in my head upon relistening to the album as much as I either expected or hoped. My favourites are undeniably still ‘Deliver Us’, regardless of opinion on the speed of the opening verses, ‘All I Ever Wanted’, ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes’, and ‘When You Believe’ all of which are from the original film.
In my opinion, many of the new songs or lyrical changes to original film songs resulted in over complicating the musical numbers themselves and the character arcs they contributed to. A primary example of this is the new version of ‘The Plagues’. I’ll be the first to admit that this is my favourite song from the original film and I feel that the original version beautifully illustrates everything it needs to, primarily the conflict and sheet disconnect between Moses and Ramses but also Moses’ reluctance to hurt what used to be his home and people and his allegiance with God’s strategy, in a relatively short space of time with high impact. If you listen to Moses and Rameses’ rewritten lyrics for the musical version of ‘The Plagues’ there not only a slightly strange disconnect in tune between their section and the ensemble, taken from the film, but also their lyrics are, in essence, attempting to achieve the same message of opposition but due to the musical’s reluctance to commit to Ramses as the antagonist, leaving this his only moment to be so, it takes so much longer and the message is muddled. It ultimately leads to the same concluding lines as the musical so, other than the changes to Ramses character, it is hard to see why these changes were needed at all. Similarly, I loved the inclusion of both Moses and Ramses singing the title line of ‘All I Ever Wanted’ whilst the ensemble snag ‘Deliver Us’ to end Act One. It gave me chills. However, they then repeat the line several times and it just hammers home that the key message this show should have incorporated into its music and lyrics is less is more. I just wish it relished the impact both hidden in the new material and that was already present in the source material.
I’ve alluded to this when discussing the music, however, my key issue with this show is the lack of clarity regarding the major changes to character and story development. Cleverly the title now applies to both brothers as Ramses role is made far more extensive through cuts from brother to brother even after Moses has left Egypt. This was the vital change in both emphasising both brothers simultaneously but also overcomplicating the narrative. Personally, I found Ramses’ half of events less memorable as the turning point in his narrative is summarised in the conclusion to Act One, however, this also diminished the impact of events in Moses’ half, especially the burning bush, as they were now just episodes culminating in a shared equality with Ramses during the very same song to conclude Act One. Similarly, Ramses was still required by the narrative to betray Moses but each time his motivation was different across another influence, his own decision, or a narrative requirement. I am all for a complex anti-hero or a character who is half protagonist and half antagonist, however, I just don’t think the new narrative structure worked for what this show tried to achieve with Ramses character.
There were also strangely directed or written episodes which took me out of the story. For example, Moses and Ramses have a long reconnecting moment not only right after Ramses has simply told Hotep that he won’t kill the Hebrews but also in the middle of the Red Sea causing Hotep to have to go off stage, wait for the conversation to be over and then come back on with the Egyptian army.
I also feel a lot for Adam Pearce. He was perfect as Hotep with a wonderful voice and manner for the character I couldn’t imagine a better actor to bring him to life. It was also very clear that he had to fill the antagonistic space left vacant when the musical switch Ramses’ character. He does this very well when the script allows him to do so which is unfortunately only in the very final scenes when it seems the script told the writers oh you need an antagonistic character to really make this work. His primary “villain song”, ‘You’re Playing with the Big Boys’ from the film, has also been cut. I understand that this was a duet in the film, but I would have loved to hear either a solo version or a new song to really show off the character and Adam Pearce and solidify some decisions about the character roles.
Wow, this is probably the longest review I have ever written. Both in length and in the time it has taken me to get it all on paper. I really appreciate it if you’ve stuck with me through all of this. I really wanted to love this show but it is a similar case to the latest revival of Joseph where the cast are amazing and the staging is immense but the story at the heart of the show just didn’t live up to either expectation or the requirement of the show itself. However, the powerful subject matter can’t be denied and with a cast like this, the beautiful choreography and insanely hard working ensemble I’m sure this show will touch the hearts of so many people and I really hope it does.
The Prince of Egypt West End Cast Recording was just released on Friday 3rd of April across all digital platforms so please give it a listen while the theatres are closed. If you like what you hear and want to either purchase tickets or recieve updates please visit their official site here. This review is entirley my personal opnion and if you love the show that’s brilliant and I encourage you to support it in any way you can.
Please be aware that I attended this show in early March prior to the country-wide closure of theatres. As last year, and now the beginning of this year, were far more hectic than initially planned I am still going to upload reviews of the shows I saw during this time, beginning with the most recent and those either still open or returning to the West End. These circumstances may change so please read these reviews with an open mind that, while they may not be open in London or their return may be disrupted, we need to support the industry more than ever and I’m going to do that by discussing them as I usually would, in doing so, hopefully spreading word of these shows and creators alike.
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