A cast reflecting the diversity of Britain as well as a story that is essentially the Book of Exodus have been promised for the upcoming West End blockbuster The Prince of Egypt.
The musical, which will open in London next year, is based on the 1998 DreamWorks animated film of the same name and tells the biblical story of Moses and his journey out of ancient Egypt.
The production, which has had a long gestation, aims to learn from mishaps that hit the US version three years ago. When that embryonic, concert adaptation was announced in New York in 2016, it triggered a social media backlash because, though the story was set in Africa, the majority of the cast were white.
The producer of the British show, Michael McCabe, speaking at a launch event in the capital on Thursday, said: “We all went in to it feeling very strongly that the show … should be a true reflection of our society.
“That it was about now as much as it was about being authentic to the time the story is set. This show needs to resonate with all audiences, and it cannot achieve that if what you are seeing is not a mirror of all of us.”
He said lessons had been learned from the casting row: “It focused everyone. We all need to think harder; everyone needs to think more carefully. In the same way you would not want to go to a Shakespeare production and see an all-white cast. It would be kind of shocking.”
All areas of the arts have come under greater scrutiny over diversity. Last month a group of actors and writers published an open letter criticising the lack of Jewish actors in a London revival of the musical Falsettos. However, producers of the show, which tells the story of a dysfunctional Jewish family, said it would not have been appropriate to ask about actors’ religious beliefs during auditions.
McCabe said the diverse casting for The Prince of Egypt had happened organically as they, too, had not asked about race or religion during auditions. Instead choices had been made on ability and how right people were for the role. “We were very lucky with who wanted to be considered for the show,” he said. “The industry has significantly changed. It is an exciting time to cast a show like this.”
Though the musical is based on the film, it is also markedly different, say its producers. The London version will feature 10 new songs as well as five from the original film, including the showstopper When you Believe, a hit for Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. All the songs were written by Stephen Schwartz, the composer behind Godspell and Wicked.
The cast, mostly actors at the start of their careers, includes Luke Brady and Liam Tamne as the two male leads, Moses and Ramses.
Rehearsals for the show, directed by Stephen Schwartz’s son Scott Schwartz, will begin in December and its opening night will be at the Dominion Theatre in London on 25 February.