MOSES AND RAMSES ARE THE CLASSIC DREAM WORKS BROMANCE, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT IS IMPRESSIVE
A SOARING CELEBRATION OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT AND ONE THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD
Mountain View is host to the world premiere of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT at Silicon Valley’s award winning TheatreWorks. The iconic story of Moses and his brother Ramses is now on stage at the Mtn. View Center for performing Arts through November 5th. Exodus and the story of Moses is a bible story mixed with some truth but mostly fiction. Twenty years ago Dreamworks created an animated film The Prince of Egypt with music by Stephen Schwartz who is known for for “Wicked,” “Pippin” and “Hunchback” and book by Philip LeZebnik. Schwartz brings in his son Scott Schartz to direct a cast of almost 30 excellent actors to stage this stunning new musical. The production team along with TheatreWorks is in collaboration with Fredericia Teater of Denmark which will host the Co World Premiere in Denmark in April 2018.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ BRINGS EGYPT TO THEATRE WORKS TO OPEN HIS WORLD PREMIERE OF HIS NEW MUSICAL
Managing Director of TW Phil Santora said "Collaborating with the Fredericia Teater for this World Premiere is remarkable,- TheatreWorks has established itself as one of the nation's foremost professional theatres championing the creation of new works, and we are honored to be working in tandem with one of Europe's top companies."
Schwartz has kept some of the film’s original songs including, “Deliver Us”, “All I Ever Wanted”, “Through Heaven’s Eyes”, “The Plagues” and the uplifting “When You Believe” that won the team an Academy Award for Best Original Song. This gifted cast is under the precision music direction of William Liberatore who keeps the tone powerful with many new songs and eye catching choreography by Sean Cheesman.
Schwartz who is currently working on the film version of WICKED was in town to sit with his new project and talked with Paul Freeman, from Bay Area News Group about PRINCE OF EGYPT and the difference from the animated version “Doing something for stage gives you a broader audience to work for. And you can go into a lot more character development and nuance. Animation is a sort of particular thing. It’s short, for one thing. There are consequently far less songs.”
LaZebnik and Schwartz have added 12 new songs to the stage version. “(the songs) must fit in seamlessly with those we created for the film- I did a lot of research before writing the songs for the movie, - and listened to what could be found of ancient Egyptian court music and tried to base a lot of the sound of the score on that. And that has remained true for the stage adaptation, as well.” The song about the brothers special meeting spot called “The Secret Room” introduces us to the adult brothers Moses played by the charismatic Danish actor Diluckshan Jeyaratnam, and Ramses played by the superb Jason Gotay, who both have flawless voices that soar through the Mtn. View Performance Arts Center.
Story writer LaZebnik says “It’s an enormous opportunity to go far beyond the movie because we have the chance now to go much deeper into the humanity of the story, into the characters and their motivations. The movie is a great starting off point. But we’re incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity we’ve been given here.” The Orchestrations are by August Eriksmoen, who created the music meant for a smaller pit. Schwartz says “One of the very interesting things that we’re trying musically with the stage adaptation is to use either real or sampled authentic ethnic instruments of the area to convey that flavor as well. So it will be a smaller orchestra, obviously (than was used for the film soundtrack) and also maybe more colorful in terms of the instrumentation.”
The story is of course the epic icon Moses leading the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt found in the Book of Exodus. I don’t want to spend too many words on a story we all know and that you can’t really change. But the presentation of this tale is a stunning performance headed by the dance and movement of a company under the direction of Schwartz’ son, Scott. Cheesman’s beautiful smooth body movement and dance swept me away including a chariot race created with the bodies of the dance ensemble. It is a sweeping achievement including the famous “Burning Bush” as the ensemble embodies the transformation. The impressive dance ensemble include: Dylan K. Curtis, Katherine Dela Cruz, Jourdan Epstein, Ayelet Firstenberg, Brian Flores, Gabriel Hyman, Paul Jordan Jansen. Joshua Keith, Travis Leland, Alison Mixon, Julia Motyka, Ramone Owens, David Sattler, Natalie Schroeder, Alicia Shumway, Alexandra Van De Poel, Kalyn West, Oliver Copaken, Carmichel James Blankenship, and the commanding Dominic Dagagan.
The company is a main part of Kevin Depinet’s clever set that is carried by each of the assemble as they set up each setting or use their bodies to create a scene. With the use of building blocks, the actors construct temples, rooms, a fountain, and tombs without distractions. Costume designer Ann Hould-Ward who has created countless Broadway hits including Beauty and The Beast, The Color Purple and Into the Woods, brings a colorful culture of diverse life to each of the assemble, an elegance and shine to the leads including the bewitching Queen Tuya played by the elegant Christina Sajous. She shows off her impressive voice in the number “Ma’at” along with Will Mann, Gotay, Jeyaratnam, and Tom Niles as Seti.
The sound design by Cliff Caruthers is bold as Mike Billings lighting design brings the Heavens to the TheatreWorks stage. The dark moody tones of the light have to mix perfect with Shawn Sagady’s projections that in no way are part of the animated version. Sagady’s work at times is dark, yet brings a warm feel to many of the desert scenes and deep in the temples and second act “The Plagues” production numbers. Magic Consultant Jacques Simard brings some eye catching drama to the biblical plague, the red waters, locust and Moses madness is all compelling on stage in this two act musical.
The supporting cast are all electrifying including local favorite David Crane as Moses real brother Aaron and his sister Miriam with a wonderful performance by Julia Motyka. The two are featured in the new song “One of Us” with their brother Moses as Jeyaratnam adds his passion to each of his songs. As the hero unwilling accepts his role as the leader of the Hebrews he marries Midianite Tzipporah played by the standout, sizzling Brennyn Lark who we meet in the first act as she dances and proves she will not be a slave in the song “Dance of the Day”.
Moses (Diluckshan Jeyaratnam) rides his chariot in a race with his brother in the world premiere of The Prince of Egypt presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, now through Nov. 5, 2017. Photos by Kevin Berne
Ramses father, Pharaoh Seti, is played by Berkeley Reps famed Tom Nelis and proves his provocative voice in his first act solo “One Weak Link” and hands down his legacy to his two sons.The cast also features Brennyn Lark as Tzipporah, who sings “Footprints in the Sand”, and “All I ever Wanted” featuring the graceful Christina Sajous as Queen Tuya, Julia Motyka as Miriam, Will Mann as the High Priest Hotep who is always onto Moses. Jamila Sabares-Klemm elegantly plays Ramses wife Nefertari. Ayelet Firstenberg is the wise Youcheved and he sings “All I ever Wanted” with Moses. The two boys who play Young Aaron are Oliver Copaken Yellin and Dylan K. Curtis.
Schwartz and LaZebnik have focused this version of PRINCE OF EGYPT about the brothers and the power they share with each other. The second act features the brothers in the warm song “Always On My Side” that creates themes of freedom and change as Moses asks his Pharaoh brother “Free our people.” Some of the edge seems gone as both Dreamworks and Disney can lightly whitewash their scripts. LaZebnik who also wrote Pocahontas keeps it important to include powerful women supporting and inspiring the male leaders they come to understand in this story.
Schwartz considers himself a storyteller “That’s the job of being a songwriter for musical theater. Everything is in service of the story and the characters and the dramatic content.” This musical tells this story well, but the wonder moments is the eye catching staging. TheatreWorks Silicon Valley continues its mission of producing new works in the Bay Area with this World Premiere of THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, and earlier this season with Min Kahng’s FOUR IMMIGRANTS. PRINCE closes this weekend but is sure to do well on Broadway and in Denmark for its spring World Wide Premiere. This is very much the story of two brothers how they survive their destiny and rediscover their family bond and love. If you can get a ticket for closing weekend this is a MUST SEE.
THEATREWORKS SILICON VALLEY PRESENTS THE WORLD PREMIERE OF A TIMELESS MUSICAL JOURNEY THE PRINCE OF EGYPT Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz Book by Philip LaZebnik Directed by Scott Schwartz
MUST CLOSE - November 5, 2017 Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts For tickets ($40-$100), call (650) 463-1960
*INTERVIEWS with Schwartz and LaZebink courtesy of Paul Freeman, Bay Area News Group
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