Review Roundup: Were London Critics Wowed By THE PRINCE OF EGYPT?

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Review Roundup: Were London Critics Wowed By THE PRINCE OF EGYPT?

Brand-new musical The Prince of Egypt opened tonight (25 February) at London's Dominion Theatre. Featuring a cast and orchestra of almost 60 artists, the show has music and lyrics by GRAMMY® and Academy Award®-winner Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) and a book by Philip LaZebnik (Mulan, Pocahontas).

It features 10 brand new songs written by Stephen Schwartz, together with 5 of his acclaimed songs from the Dreamworks Animation film (Deliver Us, All I Ever Wanted, Through Heaven's Eyes, The Plagues and the Academy Award®-winning When You Believe).

The huge cast of 43 features Luke Brady (Moses), Liam Tamne (Ramses), Christine Allado (Tzipporah), Alexia Khadime (Miriam), Joe Dixon (Seti), Debbie Kurup (Queen Tuya), Gary Wilmot (Jethro), Mercedesz Csampai (Yocheved), Adam Pearce (Hotep), Tanisha Spring (Nefertari) and Silas Wyatt-Barke (Aaron).

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.

Let's see what the critics had to say...


Anthony Walker-Cook, BroadwayWorld: Firstly, the ensemble cast of this show must be praised. One minute they form a temple, the next the River Nile running red with blood, and in between they are the Burning Bush. Sparsely dressed in Ann Hould-Ward's lacklustre costumes, the intense, physical energy this company brings is impressive. They're flung together by Sean Cheesman's choreography, but less would have been welcome. They proclaim "Deliver Us", an anthem of hope crushed by slavery, but little can save them from the oppression of Philip LaZebnik's meandering, inconsequential book. Regrettably, The Prince of Egypt feels more like a pantomime than a Biblical epic. Luke Brady and Liam Tamne are charming as Moses and Ramses respectively, but their affable, brotherly relationship leads to jocular scenes that are at odds with the themes of slave labour and religious persecution that occupy the show's background.

Dominic Canvendish, The Telegraph: His mise-en-scène reaps mixed dividends. Projections conjure sunrise, sandstorms, stars, and hieroglyphs a go-go. But the cinematic approach clashes with an earthy aesthetic that has the energetic ensemble straining to evoke, through the medium of dance and rolling around on the stage, a chariot race, a river, a rippling desert, the burning bush and so on. The first half swings between the sublime and the ridiculous - courting theatrical deathliness on the Nile. But the agony of the Israelites and the ecstasy of their escape is relayed with incremental force. Schwartz's score - weaving various appropriate Middle Eastern influences together - comes into its own in a rash of blistering bible-belters in the second half. I wasn't so much converted as bludgeoned into a state of admiration by the heavenly host of rousing choruses. And that's no small feat.

Alex Wood, WhatsOnStage: Book writer Philip LaZebnik has been neatly innovative with his original and more straightforward screenplay. By adding a few extra scenes and dialogue, he makes the Pharaoh's power far less absolute, creating a murky world where pragmatic decisions have to be taken to appease warring families craving Egypt's throne. It's also a zealously secular adaptation of the film - the 10 Commandments and Mount Sinai moments are omitted, while God is rarely given a look-in. The biggest problem cutting through the overall production is LaZebnik's clunky dialogue, where the order of the day is very much 'tell' rather than 'show'. Subtlety and nuance are eschewed in favour of melodramatic bluntness, with the earlier part of the show, before Moses knows his real identity, dragging considerably. Thankfully LaZebnik lets the pace quicken in the second act as the plagues set in and Moses battles to free his people.

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian: This stage adaptation, however, does not come off to the same spectacular effect, which is a puzzle in itself given that it has been in the making for years and is sprinkled with so much of the same stardust. It is produced by DreamWorks Theatricals, with Stephen Schwartz's lyrics (he has written 10 new songs that sit alongside his five original numbers) and an impossibly lavish set. The staging, which is multi-layered and at times stretching out into the auditorium, might ironically be part of its problem. Scott Schwartz's production is stuffed full of imagination but it is so excessive and outsized that it overwhelms the emotional drama, sucking away any intimacy between the actors.

Tim Bano, The Stage: The ensemble is given some really tricky choreography by Sean Cheesman, many moments of which dazzle, but many more don't quite land. The ensemble does a lot of incomprehensible things with their hands, there is much flinging about of limbs and chorines, and the overall effect is messy. Schwartz's score is fascinating though, greatly extended from the film, expanding on its slippery, shifting effect as he plays around with major and minor thirds throughout. The opening Deliver Us, sung by Hebrew slaves, is grand and chilling, plus a couple of new additions make their mark - Footprints in the Sand particularly. The Oscar-winning When You Believe, made famous by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey is still a showstopper.

David Benedict, Variety: Alongside the roar of lushly harmonized choral numbers, routinely reprised, there are the expected anthemic power ballads, replete with mostly anodyne lyrics strongly orchestrated by August Eriksmoen. And having clocked the fact that Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston were on the original soundtrack, none of the uniformly strong-voiced leads holds back on the melismas, least of all Christine Allado's initially enraged slave then enraptured wife Tzipporah, who is given the opportunity to let rip. That's symptomatic of the entire bombastic production. Constantly going from zero to emotional overload, it's so effortful it's enervating.

Clive Davis, The Times: Luke Brady and Liam Tamne make an amiable pair of chariot-racing pals as Moses and Ramses respectively. Raised as a member of the royal household, this Moses is a cool kid who would have been driving a Chevy had the Egyptians mastered the secrets of the internal combustion engine. Gary Wilmot is wasted in the lesser role of Jethro, and Christine Allado's feisty Tzipporah deserves more prominence too, although Adam Pearce gets some suitably villainous lines as the high priest Hotep.

Marianka Swain, theartsdesk: Most effective is Schwartz Jr's use of ensemble movement. Echoing the slaves' building of the pyramids, brick by brick, the slick troupe forms scenery with blocks, while choreographer Sean Cheeseman's innovative work sees dancers clustering as racing chariots, writhing as a river turned to blood, bursting forth as the burning bush, or framing the court scenes as prostate slaves - an ever-present reminder. Sometimes, however, the sexy athleticism and buoyant gymnastics tip the dances into competitive cheerleading territory, and it's hard to reconcile beaten-down slaves with the ensemble's gleaming health and fitness - toned limbs and ripped abs galore in Ann Hould-Ward's skimpy costumes.

Alice Saville, Time Out: 'The Prince of Egypt' has a massively current message: it's a story of a struggle against out-of-touch rulers, amid floods, disease and natural disasters. In its best moments, it has the rousing power of 'Les Misérables'. But with gritty recent revivals of the likes of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' showing that Biblical musicals can feel contemporary, this one seems stuck in the past. Its cheesy Disney-esque multiculturalism doesn't make these warring tribes feel even slightly authentic, and the magic tricks feel like just that - tricks. The music is miraculous; if only there was storytelling to match.

Mark Shenton, LondonTheatre: It doesn't help that Philip Lazebnik's book, based on his own screenplay for the film that he also wrote, plods from one incident to another with little character or much narrative development. The actors are left not so much filling blanks but playing them. Accomplished musical theatre actors like Liam Tamne and Luke Brady - who are playing Ramses and Moses respectively, raised as brothers after the abandoned baby Moses is found in the bullrushes and find themselves on significantly different life paths - have little to wrestle with dramatically. Though I briefly thought of our own Prince William and Harry, their bigger challenge is to do a lot of emoting and delivering power notes from their terrific lungs.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: One key problem is that Schwartz and writer Philip Lazebnik treat the Israelites' struggle for freedom from Pharaoh as a life-learning experience for two bratty rich boys. Egyptian heir apparent Ramses and adopted foundling Moses idle away their lives racing chariots and chasing slave girls, until Moses learns of his Hebrew heritage and his destiny. Even then, it's more about the two men's internal struggle.

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