The Prince Of Egypt, credit Tristram Kenton ©DWA LLC

Review: The Prince of Egypt, Dominion Theatre

Review: The Prince of Egypt, Dominion Theatre

Jenny Booth delivers the verdict on this monumental new show

If you spend too long on a project you can overwork it. This seems to be what has happened to the stage adaptation of Hollywood animated film The Prince of Egypt, which has been in production since 2015, with much tinkering and too many additions since.

The show, based on the story of Moses liberating the Israelites, runs to a bum-numbing 165 minutes because they have kept adding more and more – ten new songs written by Stephen Schwartz, who composed the original film score. Sean Cheesman’s innovative choreography of the many dance numbers is excellently performed, but you only need to see the Israelites writhing in misery and pleading for their freedom a couple of times to get the point.

The bromance between Pharoah Ramses and his adoptive brother Moses has been padded out with extra scenes and subplots, such the catfight at court between the brothers’ wives (there is nothing feminist about this show).

“We’ve really tried to deepen the approach to the story… to go as far into these characters as we can, to make them real, living, breathing human beings,” says director Scott Schwartz, son of Stephen.

But in a stage production, less is often more. When they ditched the maximalist approach for a more theatrical staging it was often more powerful. The portrayal of the burning bush by a mass of writhing, orange-lit dancers, and the stark tableau of shrouded coffins for the deaths of the firstborn, were both really effective moments of theatre.

It’s a quality cast, with two powerful leads in Luke Brady (Moses) and Liam Tamne (Ramses), whose voices contrast pleasingly and intertwine in duets. Tamne makes the most of having the more interesting character arc as weak and changeable Ramses, while poor Brady has to spend most of Act 2 just reacting to the monumental special effects. With his curly hair standing on end he reminded me of the poster for Eraserhead.

The effects are really good – check out the fireballs – but here as elsewhere the impact is often spoiled by going over the top. Not content with recreating the parting of the Red Sea with giant, Imax-style digital projections on all sides, and hydraulically tilting the stage to such a steep angle that the Egyptian army slid to their doom in the orchestra pit, Schwartz has to ram the point home (this is the RED SEA CLOSING, folks) by projecting a sperm whale onto the backdrop. Just stop right there!

In the end, I felt Schwartz had lost some of the humour and humanity of the film in order to create a monumental biblical epic.