Prince of Egypt Commands Attention
I won’t beat around the burning bush; you have to go to this show.
If you have any interest in theater, you will be kicking yourself in a few years if you don’t see the World Premiere of The Prince of Egypt while it’s at TheatreWorks in Mountain View. This musical is destined for Broadway and the Tony Awards, so go now before it leaves for Denmark where it will be staged by the Fredericia Teater in 2018.
The show is visually stunning, technically spot-on and incredibly compelling. The Prince of Egypt brings back all of the winning elements of the 1998 DreamWorks animated picture adding new dimensions to the story and characters. Scott Schwartz impeccably directs the show scored by his father, Stephen Schwartz, to bring forward a classic story in a modern and unique way.
The show tells the story of Moses, which is a cornerstone of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Born a Hebrew slave but adopted by the Egyptian royal family, Moses must confront both of his cultures when God sends him to free the slaves of Egypt. If you’re not familiar with the story or it’s been a while since Sunday school, you may want to brush up on the broad strokes of the story. Some core elements, such as the burning bush and the ten plagues of Egypt, go by quickly in stunning dance sequences.
The great American composer, Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin), has created new songs to add to his already fabulous score and expanded on existing themes of the movie. The music is set to stunning and simple staging featuring gorgeous modern dance movements that tell the ancient story while still standing on its own.
“There can be miracles when you believe… Who knows what miracles you can achieve when you believe.” - When You Believe, The Prince of Egypt
The show hinges on the relationship between the two adoptive brothers, Moses and Ramses. If you don’t buy into their close relationship, the whole emotional heart of the show would be lost. Luckily, Diluskshan Jeyaratnam (Moses) and Jason Gotay (Ramses) are up for the job. The tight bond of the two brothers throughout the first act makes the divide of religion and purpose later in the show all the more heart wrenching.
Additionally, the script gives more time and weight to the emotional consequences of the plagues than the actual acts of God. It’s an interesting choice that could have killed the show if it wasn’t handled so beautifully. Instead, the change in focus makes the show achingly human. Instead of a cold-hearted king, Ramses is depicted as a Pharaoh crushed by the expectations and duties of his station. In act two, Moses sings “For the Rest of my Life,” a new song which deals with the emotional hardship he faces having to be the one bringing the wrath of God to the people of Egypt. Jeyaratnam sings with such heartrending passion that you can’t help but compare Moses to a soldier returning home with P.T.S.D. after committing atrocities in the name of the greater good. He says, “there’s a weight on my soul… once you’ve won, you have to live with what you’ve done.”
Then there’s the staging. Simply put, it’s gorgeous.
The deceptively simple set, designed by Kevin Depinet, is dominated by a two-part river of gold. It looks like it could be the sands of the desert or the papyrus on which the story was originally written. The gold pops all the more against a deep purple stage that also highlights Tony award winner Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes. The members of the ensemble are dressed so they can change between the brown color palate of the Hebrews and the white and gold of the Egyptians in mere moments.
All set pieces are created by blocks painted to look like stone and by the actors themselves. Each setting is aided by and added to with images projected on the top-part of the papyrus-stage and the stone-blocks.
But mostly it’s the agility of the actors and ingenuity of the choreography by Sean Cheesman that place the story in space and time. The Nile River, for example, is made up of actors moving like currents, first carrying baby Moses to safety then, later, turning to blood.
Every element of the show is lovingly crafted by modern theater superstars to knock your socks off. At the risk of repeating myself, go to this show. If you don’t, you’ll be kicking yourself when it’s on Broadway and the West End or you hear “When You Believe” on the Tony Awards.
The World Premiere of the stage musical, The Prince of Egypt produced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. The show runs Tuesdays through Sundays until November 5, 2017. Tickets range from $40 - $100 with discounts available for seniors, educators, groups and people under 35 years old.
Photos Courtesy of Kevin Berne