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The Ten Commandments, the Musical: its life in the U.S.

The great premiere of the musical “The Ten Commandments” / “Les Dix Commandements” took place in Paris at Le Palais des Sports de Paris in the year of 2000. The music was composed by Pascal Obispo, lyrics written by the already famous at the time Lionel Florance and Patrice Guirao, book by Elie Chouraqui, the amazing choreographer Kamel Ouali completed the star crew of creators. The musical tells the story of Moses and his adventures, of the struggle for the deliverance of the Hebrew slaves. During the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti, an order comes out under which all first born Hebrew males are to be annihilated. That ill-fated year Moses is born, however, he is saved by the young childless Egyptian princess Bithia, who raises him as her own son. Ramses becomes Moses’ stepbrother, when Ramses becomes pharaoh he forces Moses’ beloved – Nefertari, to become his wife.

When Moses finds out the truth about who gave birth to him and where he came from, seeing how mercilessly reigns Ramses, Moses decides to rebel against his brother and he gets sent into exile into the desert. There he meets his future wife – Sephora and sees the Burning Bush, where he hears the voice of God. God tells Moses to return to Egypt and save the enslaved Hebrews. The second part of the show is dedicated to Moses' adventures in the desert, while saving the Hebrews – the catharsis of the story happens on Mount Sinai, where God sends Moses the Ten Commandments, which are to save the people.

The impressive staginess of the production, the breathtaking beauty of the heartfelt music, the absolutely unique choreography by Ouali attracted the attention of the American producers, and so in 2004 an English version of the musical appeared in Hollywood. Maribeth Derry translated the lyricsand libretto. The American version received mixed reviews, some praised the strong cast (the star pop-rock singer Adam Lambert played the part of Joshua), others were unhappy with choreography which was completely changed by Travis Payne, and especially he media reproached the choice of the casting directors to have Val Kilmer play the part of Moses. However, after Adam Lambert became the winner of the American Idol and consequently a huge star – an official video of the original production came out. The video sold millions of copies. However, the original music by the French composers was not used in the movie.

The idea to reproduce an “alien” musical based on the biblical story was received by the American critics quite harshly – “This musical is unlikely to match the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, especially since all the arias, though beautiful as they are, all sound somewhat “uncoordinated” and if the spectators have not brushed up on the story of Moses before coming to the show, they can’t understand what is happening in this magnificent yet incomplete production…” (New York Times Theatre, Sept 2004, review by Charles Isherwood). The show didn’t last long and the critics didn’t mind that the “alien” was banished.

One cannot argue that French musical theater is very different from the American musical theater. It is “unique” and “peculiar”.

And yet, a brand new production of «The Ten Commandments the Musical» has come to New York. In 2022, a new version of the musical adapted into English, produced and directed by David Serero opens its doors to the public, Off-Broadway. The vibrant and talented cast, led by David Serero as Moses, consists of strong actors and singers: DaShaun Williams as Ramses, Caroline Purdy as Nefertari, Lisa Monde as Bithia, Melissa Lubars as Jochebed, Stephanie Craven as Sephora, Cale Rausch as Joshua, Zachary Harris Martin as Aaron, Kristyn Vario as Myriam, Andy Donnelly and Julia Anne Cohen as various roles and U/S.

You can come and witness the magic of musical theater with a French flair at the Center for Jewish History. Visit the official website for tickets and more information

By Olga Lisa Monde

May 2022, New York


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