Sound Advice Reviews
Prince of Egypt OLC
When, just for starters, the plot includes harrowing family anguish, large-scale human suffering and death, messages from God, the go-to M.O. for musicalizing is, logically, to think "big, Bigger, BIGGEST." With the Bible's tales of an emotionally burdened Moses who is determined to find freedom for the Hebrew slaves andspoiler alerteventually does, defying the royal family that raised him, the presentation of the score for the stage version of The Prince of Egypt is indeed often as epic as can be. On the grander-scaled tracks, throwing caution to the wind (and other forces of Nature frequently addressed), the large orchestra employed for the London cast recording intensifies the waves of high drama and "J'accuse!" moments as it crests and cascades, crescendo after crescendo, its earnestness defying logic that would assume the orchestration will exhaust itself and the listener. Instead, we who are willing will ride the wave, lest we be drowned. Better to be swept upand let the catharsis proceed.
All that being said, it's impressive to note that there is also another agendawhich is met to some degreeto bring some smaller-scoped thoughtful underpinnings to the characters, revealing tenderness and psychological exploration. After a long incubation, including readings and productions in other countries, The Prince of Egypt opened in London earlier this year, represented now by a formidable recording (only available digitally so far). Compared to how he has significantly added and expanded things for the stage, Stephen Schwartz's original music and lyrics for the animated feature from a couple of decades ago seem like a sketch. Old songs are fortified, expanded, and become all the more impactful when adapted in reprises, woven into other numbers, or echoed instrumentally. Although some tracks are on the short side, the new material almost triples the quantity of what had been provided for the screen. Awash in emotion and tension, the new stuff, like "Footprints on the Sand," is a thriller rather than mere filler. There are just that many more pleas, laments, confrontations, and declamations. Arguably, one can overdose on such drama and grow weary of the woe if this 23-track recording is heard in one listening session when there isn't much respite from the fraught atmosphere even in sections with less outright rage. (The film's outlier comic relief duet is MIA.)
Supported and boosted by the huge, throbbing sounds of orchestra and chorus, the talented cast sounds committed and intense. Leading the way, with blessedly calibrated vocals, is Luke Brady as Moses, making the central character more three-dimensional and shaded, rather than just a blameless tortured soul and super-sized, acclaimed hero. The weight of familial ties that bind and break is palpable in his singing and that of Liam Tamne (as Rameses); they have kinetic chemistry, sparking challenge combining forces in "Make It Right" and "Always on Your Side." There are effectively determined and touching performances by others, especially those playing key women who provide emotion touchstones to personalize the tragedies and challenges of the many: Alexia Khadime (Miriam); and Tanisha Spring (Nefertari ), who shines in an emotional highlight with the wrenching "Heartless." Gary Wilmot makes "In Heaven's Eyes" a more low-key advocacy of philosophy than one might expect, losing some of its potential force, but that may be welcome respite in an anthem-heavy, motto-heavy, voluminous song stack. The old movie's breakout pop hit, "When You Believe," remains a standout mega-message moment but doesn't get the all-stops-out, outsized diva treatment that dwarfs everything else. There is plenty of the powerhouse in the Schwartz wheelhouse to go around.
Mixing in words in the ancient language and ethnically specific instrumentation for a more specific sense of place. It's not overdone as to be distancing.
Sometimes a saga cries out for the straight-ahead, serious treatment when it's all about survival, suffering, and faith. A matter of life and death, The Prince of Egypt's stage incarnation rises to the occasion, rather than sinking in the weight of heavy-handed history.