DreamWorks’ musical animation The Prince of Egypt was praised to high heaven when it was released in 1998. Combining the Old Testament story of Moses, Ramses and the liberation of the Israelites with magnificent artwork, an Oscar-winning song and a star cast, the film produced box-office gold.
This stage adaptation, however, does not come off to the same spectacular effect, which is a puzzle in itself given that it has been in the making for years and is sprinkled with so much of the same stardust. It is produced by DreamWorks Theatricals, with Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics (he has written 10 new songs that sit alongside his five original numbers) and an impossibly lavish set.
The staging, which is multi-layered and at times stretching out into the auditorium, might ironically be part of its problem. Scott Schwartz’s production is stuffed full of imagination but it is so excessive and outsized that it overwhelms the emotional drama, sucking away any intimacy between the actors.
It has a thumping, big stadium feel in its sound and visual effects, and the best known songs – When You Believe and Deliver Us – still stand out, but almost all the others are drowned out by the scale of everything else on stage, while humorous lines from Philip LaZebnik’s book that worked well in the film fall flat.
Liam Tamne as Ramses and Luke Brady as Moses work hard to make the songs and book affecting against the glut of pageantry on stage. Brady’s heroic performance gains some emotional traction by the second half, but characterisation overall seems one-note: Moses’s wife Tzipporah (Christine Allado) enters as a slave girl with Walk Like an Egyptian dance moves; Ramses’s father Seti (Joe Dixon) projects a loud authoritarianism; Hotep, the high priest to the Pharaohs (Adam Pearce), looks like a Bond villain, and other cast members seem featureless.
Kevin Depinet’s set design and Jon Driscoll’s projections create an ancient Babylon by way of Las Vegas with snazzy projections of pyramids, hieroglyphics and big, cheesy exoticism alongside Ann Hould-Ward’s predominantly white, gold and glitter costumes.
The Prince of Egypt is at its strongest as a dance production with beautiful visual formations through bodywork when chariots, wells or rolling desert sands are created by groups of dancers. It is in Sean Cheesman’s astonishing choreography that this musical feels at its most alive.
• At Dominion theatre, London, until 31 October.