“With its creative and production heft, this will undoubtably be around a long time”
Born in ancient Egypt and delivered via an unconventional route, this new work from the creators of Wicked (Dreamwork Theatricals) arrives kicking and ululating in the mighty palace of London’s Dominion Theatre. Having first been an animated feature film, this is the story of Moses told with a lot less religion and a lot more bromance, tracking the relationship between young Ramses and his foundling sibling as they grow close, then apart, then further apart.
A thrillingly executed chariot race kicks off an evening of peerless creative arts, from choreography to video projections, from wardrobe to set design. Then, as Ramses (Liam Tamne) steps up to fill the Pharaonic boots of his father Seti (Joe Dixon), Moses heads the other way down the pecking order, by falling for an enslaved dancer, Tzipporah (Christine Allado). Exile ensues as he pursues her into the embrace of the desert-based Midianites, a blissful commune lead by the genial Jethro (Gary Wilmot) who teach him how to dance in 5/4 time. After meeting up with his previously lost family, in particular sister Miriam (Alexia Khadime), Moses realises his identity and takes up the cause of those Hebrew slaves still slogging themselves to death on Ramses’ pyramids.
Enslaved to an unwieldy source, the script by Philip LaZebnik suffers under the strain, with wars and plagues, exile and deliverance having to be explained through the eyes of two brothers in the few gaps between 25 musical numbers. With so much work to do in a small space of time, some lines edge beyond parody. “Moses!! I haven’t seen you in a long time” says Rameses as if spotting a mate in McDonald’s when Moses returns from exile to let his people go. “How did you let the people go?” complains High Priest Hotep (Adam Pearce) as if the multitude escaping was equivalent to losing your Oyster card. However, it does the job of keeping the action and effects speeding along, especially in the second half with plagues being visited with exhilarating brevity. Hotep is no sooner popping open his vestal top to reveal boils than meteors are descending on the backdrop. But this is all, as intended, creating a thundering, crowd-pleasing display, that bears little analysis (should we really applaud a plague?) but gives excellent opportunity for some impressive visuals. The design team in particular (Kevin Depinet’s set, Mike Billings’ lighting, Jon Driscoll’s projections and Chris Fisher’s illusions) create spectacular landscapes, pyramid interiors and Red Sea partings.
Great effort too has gone into Stephen Schwarz’ reworking of his own score. Best known for Wicked and Godspell, here his music and lyrics wrestle absorbingly with the constraints of Egyptian-sounding cadences (courtesy of Hollywood’s biblical blockbusters) and lilting Yiddish melodies, while blending in some old school rock opera and, inevitably, the saccharine sound of Disney Musicals. The cast is universally highly competent as you might expect, the dancers all limb-perfect in service of Sean Cheesman’s superb choreography. With the two leads perhaps lacking enough contrast, only Alexia Khadime truly soars vocally, but Christine Allado and Gary Wilmot join her in managing to project a third dimension to their originally two-dimensional characters. With its creative and production heft, this will undoubtably be around a long time, but doesn’t have the heart of a Lion King.
The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs’ award winning children’s book, is brought to the stage by composer Howard Blake, director Bill Alexander and choreographer Robert North for its annual visit at the Peacock Theatre in London’s West End. It’s a perennial favourite among children and their parents “at the most magical time of the year,” and it’s easy to see why. Blake’s music, including the hit song “Walking in the Air” (sung by Aled Jones), plus North’s choreography—with Alexander’s direction tying it all together—makes The Snowman one of those rare shows that can hold the attention of the primary school set and their younger siblings. It also helps that this show, like the book, has no words. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production of The Snowman is a visual feast for young and old eyes alike.
That said, this production has a rather different look from the drawings in the book, although designer Ruari Murchison finds ways to portray the eponymous hero and the young boy who creates and befriends him that are recognisable enough. And it’s hard to find fault with the design for the myriad of other creatures not in the book, who come to join the Snowman and his friends on stage. The never ending array of toys, fruit, and adorable animals that come to life and dance in their unwieldy costumes is something the child in all of us can appreciate. The talented dancers, led by dance captain Antony Edwards, bring off the difficult combination of comedy and grace in their performances, to the delight of their young audience. The set uses the space at the Peacock cleverly and efficiently, given that a lot of room has to be created for the dancers (and for flying the Snowman and the Boy). The small but effective band, under the musical direction of Costas Fotopoulos, creates a lively sound that is loud enough to overcome the constant murmuring of adults and kids commenting on the action, but not so loud that an audience with sensitive ears could object.
The elements of the story in The Snowman are familiar to anyone who loves folk tales. It has some things in common with The Nutcracker, which may be the reason it was adapted into a seasonal show. But The Snowman is a much simpler tale—perfectly designed for a younger audience that may not be quite ready for the complexities of Clara and her world in The Nutcracker. In short, Boy creates a Magical Snowman which he then introduces to the commonplace items of his world, such as clothing, toys, and food. But through the Snowman’s magic these items also become magical, and the boy’s world is transformed, culminating in a fantastic flight to the Snowman’s world where the roles are reversed. Now it is the Boy who becomes the magical figure transforming the world of the Snowmen and their friends. Add in the rescue of the Snow Princess from the evil Jack Frost, and all is ready for a happy celebration before the Boy returns home. Was his journey just a dream? But he still has the scarf that Father Christmas gave him, so of course it must be true.
If there is one criticism to be made of this show, it is that it runs a hundred minutes with an interval. That is a long time for very young children to manage, and there were predictable meltdowns towards the end of the second half. But for the most part, the audience was entranced by the music and dancing, and loved opportunities for waving at the Snowman and the Boy as they flew across the stage. So if panto is not your thing, and you are searching for a seasonal substitute to take your young friends and family to, why not introduce them to The Snowman?