The Prince of Egypt
As a confirmed theology geek and musical theatre fan, I was excited to see this new West End show. However, I still don’t quite know what to make of The Prince of Egypt. The choreography (Sean Cheesman) and set design (Kevin Depinet) blew all my expectations out of the water, but the storyline differs so drastically from the biblical narrative that I left feeling slightly confused.
This musical is based on the 1998 DreamWorks film and is playing at the Dominion Theatre, which on Sundays hosts Hillsong Central London. Both the film and musical are adaptations of the first 14 chapters of Exodus.
The first thing that struck me was the diversity of the audience – age, gender, ethnicity – all of whom seemed to enjoy the show. The musical unashamedly tackles tricky subjects such as slavery, injustice, sexism and unanswered prayer.
Luke Brady brilliantly portrays a multifaceted Moses – boyish troublemaker, fearless leader, emotionally conflicted. And his character shows the power of God to transform a seemingly insignificant life.
The issue with both Moses’ transformation and the musical as a whole is that God has largely been removed from the narrative. Post-burning bush (depicted by outstanding dancers in a remarkable feat of physical theatre), Moses says: “I saw a miracle and now it’s up to me.” Not quite the biblical depiction where the answer to Moses’ “Who am I…?” (Exodus 3:11) is effectively: “Don’t you worry who you are. I am who I am. It’s not about you, I’ve got this.”
Because of this, it wasn’t at all clear why the plagues (some of which were missing or amalgamated) were happening or through what means (though Moses’ “magic” powers were offered as an explanation at one point). One of the clearest ‘God moments’ in the show was also one of the most powerful. Moses has come to the end of himself and seems to have given up hope that the Israelites will ever escape the grip of the Egyptians. Right in the midst of his emotional turmoil comes the award-winning ‘When you believe’. It was a profound reminder that there is always hope. That (though often in the eleventh hour) God will always come through for us, even if it is not in the way we expect or want. There are hints earlier in the show, such as when the Israelites are beginning to doubt whether God will ever save them. They ask: “Where is the Lord?” before the orchestra plays a reworked motif of ‘When you believe’, which reminds us this is not the end of the story and to keep our eyes fixed on God (or look “through heaven’s eyes” as Jethro later sings).
Whether intentional or not, there were numerous biblical parallels throughout the show. Pharaoh’s “I must think of Egypt even before the life of my own son” and Moses’ “let me be the ransom for my people” served as a reminder to the audience of an even greater sacrifice.
If you take children to see The Prince of Egypt, you may want to summarise the story for them beforehand, because the show rushes over certain elements, which may be confusing. The dialogue is also a little clunky at points. There are moments of comedy, but they sometimes feel a little forced. You may want to point your children to the brilliantly executed technical elements and staging – the parting of the Red Sea is a particular highlight. Many children may also enjoy trying to spot the magnificently choreographed dancers who often form part of the backdrop, scenery and set.
One area where children may be disappointed is the music. Film hits aside (‘Deliver us’, ‘Through heaven’s eyes’, ‘When you believe’), the score isn’t particularly memorable, although I love that Stephen Schwartz has weaved in some North African and Middle Eastern influences.
It’s worth being aware that the Egyptian high priest (Adam Pearce) is pretty scary, as are the depictions of some elements, such as the execution of the firstborn children. If you think your children can handle it, The Prince of Egypt could be a really valuable way of addressing difficult topics. These passages in Exodus are tricky, and we are sometimes tempted to skip over the more unpleasant elements in our Sunday school sessions. But we must talk to our children about life’s difficulties and allow them to ask complicated questions that we may not be able to answer.
The Prince of Egypt may not have received glowing reviews but neither did another classic children’s film remake, The Lion King, which is still going strong in the West End and Broadway. If you can afford tickets, this show would be a great way to talk to children about the Bible, as well as to engage honestly with challenging topics.