I defy anyone to leave The Prince of Egypt without a silly grin plastered on their face. Stephen Schwartz’s staging of the 1998 DreamWorks animation is joyful, energetic and ridiculous. It riots the audience from song to lung-busting song, bringing all the fire, epic-scaled fringed curtains and melodramatic chorus I could ever want from a West End musical. I never thought I would see and enjoy Exodus’ burning bush or the River Nile embodied by writhing dancers in sequinned bikinis: but I did, and it was magnificent.
Seun Cheesman’s ambitious choreography pays off – the ensemble flips, literally and seamlessly, from slaves to river to cheery Midianites with barely a breath. Their abundance of energy and enthusiasm is infectious as they catapult from pyramid to desert. Their role is woven into the architecture of the production as they physically embody the palace made from slaves. They morph entrancingly from pillars into a hieroglyphic dance, revealing to Moses the history of his persecuted people and inspiring his true purpose. Kevin Depinet’s sets are restrained, relying heavily on projections but they truly come into their own during the parting of the sea. In a moment of genius, two of the cast – clad in metres and metres of fringe – are flown above the stage embodying the wall of water encasing the fleeing Israelites. With childish glee, the chasing Egyptians are tipped into the orchestra pit by the crashing waves of the sea un-parting. It is inspired and glorious.
Tensions in this production arise from its heritage as a beloved and classic film. The story is essentially the same; baby Moses is floated down the Nile by his Hebrew mother to escape the slaughter of newborn boys by order of the Pharaoh and he is fortuitously rescued from the water by the Pharaoh’s wife and raised as a Prince of Egypt. Moses discovers his heritage and flees to Midian, finds himself in a burning bush and returns to Egypt to free the enslaved Israelites with the help of God and 10 plagues. Yada yada. This production seemed to think so too. Basic plot staples such as Moses’ relationships with Aaron and Miriam – his Hebrew brother and sister – are hurried in order to leave space for Ramses’ and Moses’ burgeoning relationship.
The brotherhood of Moses and Ramses, beautifully encapsulated by Luke Brady and Liam Tamne, from young troublemakers to leading men, unites the whole piece; ultimately it is a tale of two brothers growing into themselves and negotiating complex power structures, heritage … and the small matter of Moses’ plagues killing Ramses’ child. The production finally slows for the elegantly constructed death and mourning of Egyptian-born children, brought to an understated apex by Tanisha Spring’s Nefertari singing a dignified ‘Heartless’.
The cost of freedom adds surprising nuance to the liberation of the enslaved Hebrews but, of course, you forgive Moses his massacre because he sings about how awful killing children makes him feel. This is laid in stark contrast with the brutalised murders of Hebrew children by the Egyptians. But let’s not dwell on that – it’s a family show!
For more information and tickets please visit the show’s official website.