TIM WALKER reviews The Prince of Egypt at the Dominion Theatre in London.
I apologise for the late arrival of my review of The Prince of Egypt, but, then again, the show itself took its time on opening night. After about half an hour, Scott Schwartz, the director, walked out on to the empty stage and explained to the restless punters that they had technical problems: one computer wasn’t on speaking terms with another one, which meant they couldn’t coordinate their cinematic backdrops with the action on stage. The audience decamped to the bars, and eventually – a full hour late and amid much grumbling about trains that were going to be missed – we were recalled and it finally got started.
Sometimes I wonder if a lot of the big shows aren’t becoming too reliant on technology, and, quite frankly, a lot of time it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Last summer a production of Torch Song Trilogy had to be abandoned at the Turbine Theatre near Battersea Power Station because it, too, had software issues.
Mostly it’s unnecessary and I remember a lot of the fun in, say, the musical Top Hat at the Aldwych was seeing a little plane taking off in the background that was clearly on a string. My friends who work in the theatre are lucky because, unlike my own line of work, their industry hasn’t fundamentally changed in centuries: it’s still ultimately about humans engaging with other humans on the boards, or it should be.
Judged in those terms, The Prince of Egypt isn’t anything special. The actors do what they can with an almost comically banal script, but it’s hard for any of them to make much of an impact given all of the technical wizardry that’s going on around them.
Like Frozen, Aladdin and The Lion King, this is a musical that began life as an animated film. It’s what happens when a lot of hard-nosed investors get together with a sense of grim determination about squeezing every penny they can out of a tried-and-tested franchise.
It’s nominally based on the Old Testament story of Moses, but Luke Brady is no Charlton Heston, but a somewhat timid career prophet who it’s hard to see anyone following with any great sense of enthusiasm. It’s a crying shame because the story – touching on arrogant rulers, natural calamities and disease – has seldom, if ever, had more relevance.
The big numbers are, however, belted out with gusto, even if it’s unfortunate, given all the problems this show has had with its technology, that one of them had to be about how ‘one weak link can break the strongest chain…’
I think Stephen Schwartz – the father of the director of this production – writes great lyrics and scores and I’m rather proud of the fact that I was one of the very few critics to recognise that his most celebrated work, Wicked, would be such a success when it opened in the West End in 2006. I fear this time around he’s made it too obvious it’s just about trying to make money.