This was a third-rate regional musical that barely managed to rope in a single big name (movie star Val Kilmer) to play its leading role, mostly on the strength of its subject matter. It would have vanished entirely if it had not left behind a DVD recording, which has led to it becoming a minor home-video curiosity among musical-theater buffs, largely once again on the strength of its subject.
One of the obvious problems with this production is that it is so monumentally heavy and self-important; it doesn’t have the faintest glimmer of humor or self-awareness. In fact, it takes itself so seriously that it often comes across as laughably pompous and unintentionally comic.
The score is also a problem. It does have its moments; some of the pop-style ballads that make up most of the score are pretty or even moving (such as “If I Can Let You Go” or “A Love That Never Was”), and the gospel-influenced choruses are occasionally stirring. There are even a couple of genuinely excellent numbers, such as the anguished “Is Anybody Listening?” for Joshua or the witheringly furious “Can You Do That For Me?” for Queen Nefertari. But the score as a whole is actually rather dull…it lacks emotional variety, the very Pop-heavy sound feels out of place in the setting, and the production numbers are all incredibly embarrassing. “He’s the One” tries to create a Middle-Eastern sound and winds up with something more like bad imitation Bollywood, “We Are Free” is just irritating in its vacuous naivete, and “Golden Calf” just looks bizarre, with some of the most ridiculous choreography seen in a musical film since At Long Last Love. This, combined with some ill-advised and at times hysterically inappropriate post-production effects added to the video version, makes the show’s visual style come off as almost surreal.
In addition, while you would think the plot of the Exodus story would pretty much tell itself at this point, the first act is actually quite poorly plotted, with the series of events that lead up to Moses discovering his identity not making much sense. But perhaps the biggest problem is that the real conflict is wrapped up within the first two scenes of Act Two, and the remaining half-hour or so is tooth-grindingly boring.
As stated, Val Kilmer plays the lead, and, although he did a fine job of voicing the same character in The Prince of Egypt, he comes across as almost absurdly wooden here—at his most emotional, he mostly looks like he’s going to be sick. The other two seminames in the cast, future American Idol alumnus Adam Lambert and musical-theater veteran Lauren Kennedy, actually both do very good work…it helps that they both get generally better material than the other performers. Everyone else is played by nobodies, all of whom are capable but undistinguished.
The show also tries very hard to turn this fairly barbaric tribal myth into an inspirational anti-slavery tract, making Moses into a Martin Luther King-esque progressive visionary and closing the show the saccharinely inspirational anthem “Say a Prayer”, which resembles the Jim Steinman song of the same name but without any of the edge. One moment in particular, where a boy soprano reassembles the tablets and sings a sanitized version of the titular Ten Commandments, is so cloying and unbearably wholesome that even the Song of Norway movie would get to make fun of it. But that was a problem that also plagued the far superior musical adaptation of this story The Prince of Egypt, so I won’t hold their attempt to soften the edges of the story against them too much.
That said, The Prince of Egypt had a sense of humor and self-awareness and vastly more interesting songs, and it managed to get an actual performance out of Val Kilmer, so it pretty much outdoes this version on every possible front. This might have some value if you intend to mock it Mystery Science Theater-style, since its combination of pompous tone and abundant flaws do make it quite easy to laugh at, but I can’t really call it a success at what it was actually attempting to do.