I have never believed you needed vast amounts of money to make good theatre.
If anything, I find when productions have a budget that needs to stretch to make their dreams come true, they become more innovative, more interesting and insist on playing to the intelligence of their audience. On the other side of the ranch, when there is an obvious “Gringotts“-style mountain of gold to keep thieving pieces from, sense goes out the window and oh me oh my didn’t it just fly tenaciously out of the window with Prince of Egypt.
It blows my mind how you could get this show wrong. It literally comes with a blueprint. For those not in the know, some context. The Prince of Egypt is a 1998 musical feature animation about the life of Moses and how he came to be raised in the house of the Pharaoh of Egypt as his adopted son alongside his heir and future Pharaoh, Ramses. Upon realising he is actually a Hebrew, Moses sets about freeing his people from the bondage of the Egyptians, creating strife between these two now opposed brothers. It is a biblical tale of huge proportions and Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer, the original composers, created an unforgettable score that still resonates today with so many.
So, how could the self, same Schwartz, who literally just had to extenuate the mould, get it so wrong? This should have been an easy task.
Throughout this show, I kept hearing the adage “You can’t polish a turd”. There was a lot wrong with this production but, firstly and most importantly, we must hold a dirge for its non-existent heart and soul, i.e. the book and score. The original songs added for this production were bland, forgettable, lacked creativity and were either hard to understand or banal lyrically ( e.g. “Behold the bush that is on fire, but not consumed“. I was wondering if I would still have sight after how hard I rolled my eyes.)
Then add superb dancers who at times executed supremely intelligent choreography depicting the currents of the river Nile or the undulating sands of the desert for example. However, just because dancers can do amazing développés and penchés does not mean you have to use those things without reason. The acting was non-existent. Sadly those in the smaller roles gave stronger performances than the leads. But with a script as basic and bad as this one, that’s me really looking for something good to say. The attempts at humour were embarrassing. Even the jokes they lifted straight from the film fell flat. Not much to say about the casting except, Moses and Aaron are Persian but Miriam, their full genetic sister, is black. Suffice it to say this show’s casting played wide and loose with the term and it seemed the production team cared more about the actors’ experience than if they fit the roles.
The special effects department clearly had one of the biggest budgets in the production, and understandably. Prince of Egypt requires huge visual miracles. Some ten plagues here, a burning bush there. But evidently they had too much money because they obviously started asking “where else can we splash this moolah?” From that moment, it went ridiculously wrong. Just because a guard falls to his death, does not mean he has to have a matrix-style demise. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a moment at the end of the first half which encapsulates the level of absurdity the SFX team went to at times. To the point, I burst out laughing in fully Nigerian “what am I witnessing?” fashion.
It’s a pity that nothing can save this depiction of a much-loved story and film. Not even the film’s original songs, which specifically, breaks my heart. I could feel the disappointment in the audience, I wasn’t the only one excited to hear songs like “Deliver Us” and, “All I’ve ever wanted”. But they made a mess of a good thing, speeding up-tempos that should have been kept slow, removing heart-rendering harmonies, instead, hiding their powerlessness behind unnecessary, choreography and movement (as I’ve already mentioned) where, sometimes, stillness and truth would have been much more effective. On the bright side, It takes a huge amount of talent to ruin an original score this good. I almost want to applaud the team for it and award them the theatre version of a “Razzie“. I’m sorry to say as a theatre-goer who has never heard of the original film or as a nostalgia-chaser excited to relive your childhood through this show, you’re going to be dissapointed no matter what.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but not sorry, save your money. Or if you want to take a chance, Prince of Egypt is booking until October 31st 2020. Find out more here.