The world premiere production of The Prince of Egypt, a musical adaptation of the Book of Exodus, draws on the 1998 DreamWorks animation. Stephen Schwartz contributed songs to that film, four of which are retained for the stage production along with 16 additional numbers, while screenwriter Philip LaZebnik has revised his book, humanising the characters of both Moses and particularly his brother, the Pharaoh Ramses.
There are hints of Schwartz’s earlier show Children of Eden in the music, but here he differentiates between the Egyptians, Hebrews and Midians through his use of instrumentation.
Representing the scale and scope of the story of Moses in a 650-seat theatre on limited resources is ambitious, but director Scott Schwartz rises to the challenge. A chariot race is impressive and a mixture of light and movement is made to represent the plagues; the parting of the Red Sea is recreated using blue drapes.
Of the songs, Deliver Us, sung by the Hebrew slaves desperately seeking liberation, is a powerful opening number while When You Believe is another show-stopper. Heartless, a beautiful understated ballad, is sung by Nefertari, wife of Ramses, as she mourns the death of the firstborns including her own.
To begin with the tone is light but in Act II it becomes darker and more unsettling as Moses and Ramses clash over the fate of the Hebrews. The relatively inexperienced Diluckshan Jeyaratnam from Denmark, who will reprise the role in his home country in April, makes for a genial Moses. The performance of Jason Gotay, as Ramses, is more convincing. Former Eponine Brennyn Lark – about to join the London cast of Dreamgirls – impresses as Moses’ Midian love interest Tzipporah and the ensemble, as a whole, is remarkably effective.