Saturday, October 21, 2017

"The Prince of Egypt" ☼ ☼

Here we have another case where a stage musical has been squeezed out of a successful movie. The Dreamworks animated film "The Prince of Egypt" was a hit in 1998, with just about every actor you love voicing biblical characters. Ralph Feinnes as Ramses, Val Kilmer as both Moses and God, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer -- everyone wanted in. Steven Schwartz (Godspell, The Wiz) wrote the songs. God looked down and was pleased.

"The Prince of Egypt" is now a staged musical, having its World Premiere at Theatreworks. If God is looking down on this one, He better have seen the movie first.

Choreography is by far the best part of the show, with Sean Cheesman's dancers performing several almost show-stopping sequences. The problem is there is no show to stop. Schwartz's songs are painfully trite and steal forgettable melodies from himself and every Disney show of the last twenty years. Philip LaZebnik's book has managed to dumb down the book of Exodus to the level of a bro-mance between two stepbrothers. Ramses, played by Jason Gotay, is Wally Cleaver, upright, handsome and destined to become Pharaoh, but so dense he doesn't realize his "brother" Moses, played by the short, curly-headed, brown-skinned troublemaker Diluckshan Jetaratnam, might actually be one of them Hebrew slave people types.

Moses manages to turn the deliverer of the Jewish people into The Beeve, a reading that defies any book of Exodus you or I ever saw. Ramses says to Moses, "It's good to know you've got my back," dialogue taken directly from The Book of The Little Mermaid. The cast is color-neutral, which ought to be a good thing, but both male and female characters sing with an irritating not-quite-soulful pop inflection, not black, not Jewish, not Middle Eastern, closer to Middle Western. Call it Disney Off-White. Meanwhile, Schwartz can't stop himself from word pairs like "Arrows" and "Pharaohs."

Everything about this show is derivative. BUT, it was a beloved film, starring beloved actors voicing cute little Egyptians and Hebrews, so our guess is audiences will not care.

We enjoyed Will Mann as Hotep, and Julia Motyka as Miriam. These two sing in the voices their characters would actually have. Also, David Crane's Aaron gave a welcome touch of humor, a Jewishness that the rest of the show, as well as the vanilla score, was determined to ignore.

We loved the dancing. And the plagues. Maybe not the discussion in the middle of the roiling Red Sea. Those people were just meshugga.


The Historical Section of the San Francisco Theater Blog awards "The Prince of Egypt" Two Stars. One Star is for the dancing and one is for having the courage to mount a show with twenty-four actors plus a live orchestra. All that talent, drowned in the Dead Sea. Red Sea. Whatever.

Please note That a Two Star Rating is below the recommended Julie Andrews Line. See Sidebar for explanation of ratings. 

"The Prince of Egypt"
Mountain View Center for the Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through Nov. 5

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