This review is based solely on my personal tastes, and my own opinions on the live musical in relation to the original DreamWorks animation film and in no way draws on my personal religious beliefs or upbringing.
To begin with, it is worth noting that I am not, a fan of musicals, but as this was the Prince of Egypt, I had to make the exception. I found that there was so much more focus on the singing that on the quality of the acting, BUT as I said before – I am not a fan of musicals and this was my first musical, so it may just be this is a typical trope of the musical genre that I am unaware of. But overall it was an enjoyable performance to watch. It made for a great night out, but, as a piece, it remains far from being able to do justice to the original animation film or the Abrahamic story that a third of the worlds religions are based on.
The first delight was that the lead part of Moses was played by Luke Bradley, who did an excellent job. His performance was not but strode the fine line between the two. His acting, not overacted or unbelievable, his powerful singing voice and his mixed-race background (probably black), made it a pleasure to watch him perform as Moses.
The stage management and use of the space on set also made this a delightful visual experience. The way the stage managers used the lights during the moments of miracles and the death of the guard(flashing lights) and utilised the relatively small stage space to create illusions of depth, particularly towards the end with the parting of sea, drew you into the physical beauty of the theatrical production, making it a gratifying visual experience.
The music was brilliant to listen to. All the songs were well performed, with the new ones bringing fresh story lines and characters to the stage and the originals being sung with heart. More than once I was almost moved to tears at the nostalgia that the performance brought on with by songs such as “Through Heavens Eyes”, “All I’ve Ever Wanted” and “When You Believe”. They were not replacements for the originals, but they were beautiful in their own rights.
But, as always, and maybe I’m just very cynical, there are several minor and significant cons, I found with the production.
I did feel, that there wasn’t enough Melanin. Now, don’t get me wrong the fact that that there wasn’t all caucasian cast was terrific, but I felt, certain characters, (Aaron, Tzipporah, Ramases I) should have been played by black actors. I’m not the type of person who goes in for diversity for just for the sake of it. I’m always more concerned with historical accuracy and whether the demographic being shown is realistic for the period they are portraying, and if that means throwing diversity to the wind, then so be it. And I feel like there should have been a little less of “let’s try and get everyone in, so we can show the world that we can all get along” and a little bit more of “what would Israelites and Ancient Egyptians actually looked like during the time of Ramases II”.
The depiction of Tzipporah by Christine Allado was my least favourite. In the animation, she was my favourite character, strong, independent, fearless, beautiful and alluring, without being overdone. Allado’s Tzipporah was cringy and overly sexualised, turning back the clock of Feminism, by forgetting that Tzipporah was supposed to successfully elude the guards and gain her freedom, through her own prowess and wit, rather than by flashing her legs or breasts by ‘dancing until she’s free’ (what does that even mean). This, to me, just seemed like a step away from real Feminism and two steps towards this idea of what Feminism has become, continually having to say “I am free, I am strong”, and yet never actually being free and strong.
Ramses himself was another depiction that was far from ideal. Ramses had no swag. Watching the animation as a child and as an adult, Ramses (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) always struck me as a character with swagger and sauve; dangerous and powerful. But Liam Tamne’s performance had none of those things. Ramses had little stage presence in comparison to the other characters, and he was portrayed as being spineless, always in the shadow of another: either his father, his brother, his wife or his priest, unable to make decisions or think for himself. And this portrayal of Ramses affected the plot right up until the pivotal moment of the parting of the sea. Viewers would have remembered from the animation and expected, Ramses to be swallowed by the waves as recompense for his treatment of the Israelites. Instead, he and his brother kiss and make-up, because the production team had planted seeds of the ideas, from the very beginning, that Ramses is all goodness and weakness and that he was, was not to blame; instead, we should blame everyone around him.
This bothered me even more because in shifting the blame from Ramses, the producers try to shift all of the responsibility on to the Ancient Egyptian religion and its priests, essentially demonising Ancient Egyptian Pagan religion, in an attempt to absolve the character of Ramses of his agency and stop the Abrahamic God from looking cruel.
Whether this is because they wanted a comfortable, family-friendly ending (though they were killing babies in the beginning), or because a religion which is not so widely practised, lead by the strange priest, (Adam Pearce) is easier to condemn, I don’t know.
That being said, their treatment of the Abrahamic God still incredibly problematic. As a viewer, religious or not, I felt it was unnecessary for the portrayal of the burning bush to be so irreverent. DreamWorks had it right with the faceless voice – you can’t go wrong with the anonymous voice, you can’t offend anyone, and it saves time. The producers of this, however, portrayed God as a mound of writhing bodies, singing in different tones and grabbing at Moses. It made me uncomfortable.
This is so problematic because, not only is it not true to the animation whatsoever, but it was put alongside this blanket of Political correctness that covered the entire production, from the way God was depicted, the way the brothers make-up, the way Ramses is made agreeable, and the way Moses calls himself a “soldier following orders”. Because of these factors, it was a production that, in many ways, only skimmed the surface of what the animation achieved, focusing so much on making something fun, that the essence of the story had become diluted.
Regardless of who is in the audience, what their background is, and irrespective of the fact it is the 21st Century, almost everyone watching is guaranteed to have seen the DreamWorks animation- this production is supposed to be a remake of that film, not a re-imagining of the story of Exodus, not a way of re-educating the masses about the role of God in the displacement and salvation of the Jews, not a commentary on the state of Isreal, and not a review of religion by way of blaming God or the gods. DreamWorks did all of that for you by creating an animation that was “true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is the cornerstone of faith for millions”. The animation tackled all of the issues which the theatrical producers seemed to struggle with, very well. All the producers had to do, if they were struggling with these themes, was to follow the outline that DreamWorks had already provided, rather than trying to deliver their own, moral, ethical, political or racial spin on a tale that so widely loved, by so many, for different reasons. Of course, this does not mean that artistic license is unwelcome. The added characters, themes, songs, twists, and little petty grievances such as clothing and irritating characterisation can be overlooked and even appreciated, in the grander scheme of a story well written and catharsis achieved, but never at the expense of the core essence of the story.