The Prince Of Egypt - Musical
Updated: Sep 12, 2019
For the past 7 years, my family and I made plenty of trips to St. George, Utah, and for plenty of reasons. But that's another story; one of those reasons was to be blown away by the spectacle of the Tuacahn Amphitheater.
Declared by some as the Broadway of the West, and also functioning as a school for the performing arts, Tuacahn exceled from presenting some hit musicals and/or plays and doing so with an amazing ensemble of performances, music, stunts, and even visual effects. The stage productions we've seen through this amphitheater alone were Tarzan, Cats...
...The Hunchback of Notre Dame...
...and Newsies; the first two on the same trip, and all of them very well done.
Well, this year, on our next trip to St. George, we took the opportunity to scope out Musical #5. That musical just happened to be the stage version of the classic animated film from DreamWorks, The Prince of Egypt.
With new songs written and composed by Stephen Schwartz, and the book written by the same writer who did the movie, The Prince of Egypt recreated the classic Biblical story of Moses, a man who was born a Hebrew, raised an Egyptian, and destined to lead his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
Now, as a heads-up, there'll be some spoilers for those who haven't seen the musical or the movie, but if you haven't seen the movie, please do. Many, myself included, have considered it to be one of the most solid and underrated animated movies ever made.
The story played out arguably the same as in the Bible, only this put an emphasis on the brotherhood that Moses and Rameses II shared with one another. This created a whole 'nother angle on the story as, after Moses communicated with God via the Burning Bush in Midian, Moses had to confront Rameses II, who had become Pharaoh upon his return, about what was to be done with the Hebrews. The result was the creation of a much more personal and dramatic portrait of an otherwise iconic moment from the Bible.
One of the first things I'll talk about is the visual effects. Like I said, one of the hallmarks of Tuacahn was its usage of visual effects on its stage productions, and The Prince of Egypt used them to its fullest potential. They used firecrackers, especially in the 'Plagues' scene, they used animals – horses, goats, and even camels were used in the musical – and last, but not least...if only you had seen how they did the water. Tarzan, the musical, used water to striking effect whenever it was in its swamp scenes. But here, the water was cleverly used to recreate the Red Sea sequence in almost all the unparalleled glory the stage could accomplish, to the point where it outdid even Tarzan.
Next, the acting and singing from the cast were super. The actors did a good job of giving off convincing performances ranging from goofy and mellow in the more lighthearted moments to rocking and effortful in the more intense moments, all without a single fumble over a line. The singing from them was spectacular, too, as they also matched the moods of the musical with just the right tenors, some quiet and smooth, others strong and powerful. In fact, my friends actually closed their eyes at one point just to listen to the singing. It was that good.
And speaking of singing, I should also talk about the songs. The songs are of a melodically rich variety that embellished the story of Moses to rousing effect. Five of the songs were actually carried over from the movie, including "All I Ever Wanted", "Through Heaven's Eyes", and the Oscar-winning hit, "When You Believe". The new songs that Schwartz composed here were really nice, too, and helped moved the story forward in their own unique ways while also complimenting the classic songs from the movie. The most memorable of those songs, to me, included "Ma'at", "Footprints on the Sand", "Dance to the Day", "No Power on Earth", "For the Rest of my Life", and "Heartless".
This leads to the next topic I might have fun discussing about: the differences between the musical and the movie. Let’s start with the narrative changes. Unlike the film, which lasted over an hour and a half, the musical lasted a traditional three hours, as the narrative has been expanded quite considerably here. As part of the expansion, this Prince of Egypt included political discussions, primarily amongst the Egyptians, and a ton more personal moments, including a scene where we saw Rameses II naming his firstborn son, Seti II, after his father. I did see the son in the movie, but he was never mentioned by name. This, of course, made the later scene where he was killed by the tenth plague a lot more tragic as a result.
As part of The Prince of Egypt's narrative expansions, the musical also took the satisfactory advantage of filling in plot holes that, while minor, were noticeable in the movie.
– One, in the movie, Moses met his then future wife, Tzipporah, when she was brought in as a slave girl to perform for him and Rameses II as a tribute to Rameses upon his ascension as Prince Regent. And yet, it was by coincidence that she, a lady from Midian, was brought in to entertain Rameses and the man who eventually would have been her future husband. In the musical, it was stated that Seti I and his guards banded together to form an army and invade Midian, and we would later have seen then return home victorious, and with a cage of Midian girls to perform for the Princes, one of them being Tzipporah.
– Two, we may know from the movie that Moses accidentally pushed an Egyptian guard to his death, and fled to the desert and ultimately to Midian in guilt. But while the aftermath on Moses' side was well addressed in the movie, the musical also took the time to explore the aftermath on Rameses' side. After Moses fled, the death of the Egyptian guard left most of the Egyptian high court, and even Seti himself, shocked, and even agreed that they would've put Moses to death, had he never fled, before settling to just leaving him banished. Tuya, the queen, and Rameses, on the other hand, both felt sympathetic for Moses in light of this crisis, and at first thought that Seti went too far. This scene even went on long enough to show Seti's passing and Rameses' ascension to the throne as Pharaoh, both at the same time as Moses' conversion with God through the Burning Bush, all just as Act I was wrapping up.
– Three, even though it was made clear in the movie that Tzipporah was on Moses' side through thick and thin after his conversation with God through the Burning Bush, there was no mention about her leaving her family behind as they were about to cross the Red Sea. In the musical, however, it was shown that Tzipporah did indeed have second thoughts about crossing the Red Sea with Moses and the Hebrews because of that possibility. After talking to Moses about it, in the end, she felt that she loved him too much to just leave him behind and head back to Midian, so it ended up being a happily ever after for both of them.
The characters seemed a little different in the musical than they were in the movie, too. The first time we saw him, Moses seemed almost similar to the Moses from the movie, except his cockiness and stubbornness sort of lasted about into his time in Midian and even in his return to Egypt before being the noble and fearless Moses we all knew from the Bible. Rameses, though, was an interesting one. One side of him had the tenderness of the movie’s Rameses, showing compassion for his foster brother and being conflicted about how to feel about him when he returned, but the other side of him had the stubbornness of, say, the Rameses of Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments, in that he constantly expressed his desire to be the next Pharaoh and even established some demonizing traits due to such an entitlement.
Speaking of which, the musical greatly expanded the role of Rameses’ wife, Neyfitiri, who only got a cameo in the movie, but even she seemed different from the Neyfitiri of The Ten Commandments...if memory serves. In The Ten Commandments, she originally loved Moses, and was really disgusted with Rameses for his actions, even when she was crowned Queen Of Egypt with Rameses, and up to when Rameses returned home from attempting to fight Moses at the Red Sea. In the musical, she was first shown as an arrogant, self-absorbed princess who also didn’t want to have anything to do with Rameses, except Rameses felt the same way about her, too, for they questioned why they had to marry for the sake of maintaining their royal status. Eventually they did marry, but when Seti II was killed by the tenth plague, Neyfitiri started to turn over a new leaf when she decided to give Rameses solace over their son’s death.
The Egyptian high priest, Hotep, as he was portrayed in the musical, was a hugely far cry from the Hotep in the movie. In the movie, Hotep was part of a comedy duo of Egyptian high priests; the other priest was named Huy. Most of their purpose in the movie was to provide comic relief and to establish magical tricks they claimed to have undertaken "by the power of Ra". In the musical, Huy was left out, and Hotep actually took his role of Egyptian high priest very seriously. So much so, that he often quarreled with Rameses over his actions either as Pharaoh-to-be or as Pharaoh, and he even took it upon himself to rally up the Egyptian guards and charge against Moses and the Hebrews after the Egyptian firstborns were killed by the plagues, half of it under Rameses' command. Never mind that he still performed magic tricks as a means of 'proving' the power of the Egyptian gods, it still partially established how much he wanted to uphold the Egyptian religion that he so strongly believed in. This, as a result, made him a good polar opposite to someone like Jethro, Tzipporah's father and high priest of Midian.
As a result, the majority of the comic relief in the musical was then taken over by Aaron, Moses' biological brother, making him in turn different from the Aaron in the movie. While Aaron was serious and humorous on occasion in the movie, what he did in the musical got plenty of chuckles from the audience. Of course, in the song "One of Us", there was one witty remark he made in regards to the Hebrews using the term "Jews". While it was meant to be harmless, it did seem a little off-color, even for The Prince of Egypt.
That reminds me, let's talk about the quibbles I have with the musical.
– First off, the scene where Moses was talking to God through the Burning Bush was visually appealing, and it had some hauntingly good music to go with it. However, it was also short-lived, lasting up to about thirty seconds before shifting to Rameses and his family problems. It felt like that scene was too important to be condensed into such a small length of time, and it could’ve gone as long as it did in the movie and covered everything God told Moses about his duty.
– Second, the Chariot Race at the beginning was a little hokey in its presentation. It just showed Moses and Rameses on horseless carriages as they gave off an illusion of riding throughout the kingdom. However, even though Tyler Hinton was right in saying that it felt "counter-intuitive to a stage adaptation, as it is impossible to actually replicate the speed of such a race believability", I noticed lights shown underneath them that looked like it was going fast in the hopes of conveying such speed. While that helped a little it still wasn't enough and it needed to be fine-tuned.
– Third, according to Rameses, Tuya, the Queen of Egypt, had become 'a different person' ever since Moses' banishment and Seti's passing. However, the only time we ever saw her in that state was when Moses came to see her in the "Plagues" sequence, and she questioned him for his alleged responsibilities for the destruction of Egypt in the form of a brief reprise of "All I Ever Wanted", as if to ask him why he betrayed them. This went on to feel like a missed opportunity; there could’ve been some other good moments where Moses could've reunited with Tuya and told her about what he believed should be done with the Hebrews.
– Finally, something I thought at first was a bit of a head scratcher was the reconciliation between Moses and Rameses at the crossing of the Red Sea. Before Moses joined up with the Hebrews in the Promised Land, Rameses was about to strike down Moses, even having his blade close to his throat, before deciding against that, much to the shock of Hotep. Then, Moses told him not too long after the he would be a great Pharaoh, naming him Rameses the Great. The first time I saw it, I thought it came out of nowhere, as they parted as bitter enemies in the film. But then it hit me; not only do I like the musical's attempts to honor both the Bible and historical facts in equal measure, but, if this can be accomplished in future productions of the show, there's one line from the movie that could be brought into the musical to give this resolution more validity. It's when Rameses was in trouble for the destruction that his and Moses' race left behind, and Moses joked around with him, saying:
I can see that now. There go the pyramids! ... Statues cracking and toppling over, the Nile drying up. Singlehandedly, you will manage to bring the greatest kingdom on Earth to ruin.
If this was kept in the musical and its ending played out as it did, it would've shown how much Moses grew not only as a human being and a leader, but also in his respect for others in all their authority without discouraging them or being overtly opposed to it.
Ultimately, The Prince Of Egypt, in its stage makeover, felt soulfully stirring, just like the movie. The characters were still engaging and identifiable, and the additions made onto The Prince Of Egypt, both narratively and musically, made it a lot more cohesive than ever before. Just like The Hunchback of Notre Dame before it, though, this production started on very low grounds of being just one of the first performances of the musical in our country, period, with very little consideration for a Broadway production in sight. Is it possible that this review, as well some of the other reviews for it that have cropped up at this point, would start a chain of word-of-mouth that will eventually give this musical, also like the movie, all the attention it deserves?
Somehow, they will. They will when we believe.
Hinton, Tyler. “THE PRINCE OF EGYPT at Tuacahn Is a Breathtaking Gift.” Broadway World, 3 Aug. 2018, www.broadwayworld.com/salt-lake-city/article/BWW-Review-THE-PRINCE-OF-EGPYT-at-Tuacahn-is-a-Breathtaking-Gift-20180803.