Last week, I made the almost ten hour trek from my home in Idaho down to Southern Utah to see Prince of Egypt’s closing night performance at Tuacahn Amphitheatre before it’s taken to London, and then, hopefully, a New York engagement. I do sincerely hope that both of these steps come to fruition because Prince of Egypt- while it was clearly a tryout and has a long way to go before it’ll be fully finished- is nothing short of miraculous.
To start with, let me set the scene. If you’ve never been to Tuacahn and are a fan of regional theatre, you simply must go at some point in time. Not only are their productions incredible, the theatre itself is breathtaking. It’s an outdoor theatre nestled in the red rock of Utah. The stage itself is large but seems small in comparison to the towering mountainous surroundings. When I saw their production of Newsies there last year, the contrast of Jack’s yearning for Santa Fe with the beautiful, ample nature stretching out around and above us brought me to tears.
Prince of Egypt was similar. I found myself tearing up at the beauty of it all. And, since it’s an outdoor theatre, the Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea are elements that I don’t think would be possible to reproduce on a full scale in an indoor theatre (after the Plagues, there was so much smoke from the pyrotechnics and fireworks that I had trouble seeing the stage) and it will be sad to see it sized down- it was done so vividly and larger than life that it wasn’t until I settled back into my seat as I clapped afterwards that I realized I had been sitting at the edge of it.
Now, I didn’t grow up on Prince of Egypt. I’ve only seen the movie three times (once because I got a bizarre email from actor Jacob Kemp that compared Moses and Aaron to Jack and Davey and I needed some sort of basis to understand it, once for Passover, and once the week before I saw the show to prepare for it), so I was not emotionally attached to and devastated by the cuts that they made, but I will list a few of them up front. “Playing With The Big Boys” has been removed. (Not replaced, removed. The scene with the snakes is non-existent.) “The Plagues” has been changed- the music of the duet part between Moses and Ramses has not been removed and is simply moved to act one, but the duet between them is now a reprise of a previous song they sing.
There is also an addition of many songs. We were told in a speech before the show that Stephen Schwartz was actually in Utah for several weeks, working with the cast, and he included a big number for Aaron that kicks off act two, a love song between Moses and his wife, and even a solo for Ramses’ wife. (Yes, she’s a character now. With her very own solo!) All of the women of the show are much more developed, except for Miriam, who is about as strong of a character as she was in the movie- which is not an insult! Miriam in the movie is an incredible character.
The changes overall reminded me of the changes made to Anastasia when it was adapted for the stage from the movie. The show feels much more grown up, and targeted at an older audience. I thought, at first, that perhaps the changes were even motivated for the same reason- to be more historically accurate. While I grew up Christian and knew the story of Moses, I had never actually read it, so I just assumed that the story was changed to better reflect the actual scripture.
I read the relevant chapters to my mother on our drive home the next day, and I was incorrect in that assumption. The actual verses, the movie, and the musical are all vastly different versions of the same story, and if you accept that before you go into any of them, you’ll probably have a better time. The musical spends a lot more time on character development- so much so that by the time it lands in London and New York, I’m sure that some of the songs will be cut, so it’s almost not even worth mentioning that Ramses and his motivations are fully fleshed out, and Moses has two beautiful songs, one in each act.
Like all tryouts, it had its problems. The pacing made act one feel rushed and act two feel like it dragged on. There were so many different elements to it that they clearly were just trying out, but at the same time, it’s impossible to watch it and not feel like they’re onto something. Prince of Egypt is something special, and if it can get past its few hiccups, I’m sure they have an award-winning piece on their hands, and more importantly, a beautiful, moving, and meaningful story.
(Photo by Tuacahn Amphitheatre)