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20 years ago, Dream Works produced The Prince of Egypt, its first traditional animation. Now as a West End musical it still holds its magnetism. This epic effort is unfortunately set amidst an international viral crisis and it is unknowingly a difficult moment for a musical to open. As we watch brothers Moses and Ramses grapple with morality and otherworldly punishments such as plagues – it’s based on the biblical Book of Exodus – it could not be more relevant at this very moment.
The sizable Dominion Theatre has a seating capacity of just over 2,000 and on the evening I attended there were noticeably empty seats. Regardless, the performance was well received and rewarded with a standing ovation. The prop boulders may be inconsequentially small and the desert and market scenery uneventful, but that allows the actors to be the main attraction.
A fringed curtain arches out around the stalls where projected images of the monolithic pharaohs stand tall. The actors hold real fire torches and walk nail bitingly near. I was seated in the stalls and think the heights of the Circle section might be the choice place to sit to take in the scale of the show.
Stephen Schwartz has a spotless theatrical pedigree and composed music and lyrics for Pippin, Godspell, Wicked, Pocahontas and many more shows. He studied at Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon University and in 1998 was hired by Dream Works to work on the animation The Prince of Egypt for which he wrote the song, ‘When You Believe’, a winning hit for Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. It was included in the stage production and did not disappoint. Stephen’s son Scott Schwartz, a Harvard graduate, directs the London production and it is apparent the talent genus has been passed down.
Notably, Sean Chessman’s choreography is dramatic and emotional and shepherds the story to brilliance. Chessman was formerly a figure skater and burned shoe leather at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and his training and experience greatly inform the nuanced performance. In the scene when the first-born boy is killed, the use of subtle slow movements made it palatable to watch.
When theatre captivates you, it takes you out of yourself and urges you to let go and The Prince of Egypt does just that. Themes such as power, class struggles and the separation of state and religion remain intriguing and relevant. The brothers Moses and Ramses indifference made me think of Prince William and Harry today. Never more than now do we need our families and togetherness.