Stephen Schwartz: 'Prince of Egypt' message of empathy especially relevant in 2023

A filmed version of the stage adaptation of the 1998 movie musical "The Prince of Egypt" will be released on video-on-demand platforms Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
1 of 5 | A filmed version of the stage adaptation of the 1998 movie musical "The Prince of Egypt" will be released on video-on-demand platforms Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

NEW YORK, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Oscar-and Tony-winning composer-songwriter Stephen Schwartz says The Prince of Egypt is a timeless tale about empathy and overcoming conflict through understanding that is particularly relevant in 2023 in light of the ongoing Israel-Hamas War.

A filmed stage adaptation of the 1998 animated movie musical recounts the story of how Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti, discovers and embraces his true identity as the child of enslaved Hebrews and a prophet.


His destiny to lead the Jews out of Ancient Egypt pits him against Ramses, who he was raised to regard as his brother.

Set for digital release by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment via video-on-demand platforms Tuesday, the live-action project was directed by Schwartz's son Scott.

"Unfortunately, it's a little bit more current than I wish it were because of the really terrible things that are happening right now in the Middle East," Schwartz, 75, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview with reporters.


"The thing that happens, obviously, in The Prince of Egypt, is that these two brothers who love each other and come into conflict because they represent these two different peoples. They ultimately find a way of reconciling, and that is the ultimate goal in the terrible things that are happening right now," he said.

"So, if, in some way, this story gives both hope and perspective to what's going on, then that is a contemporary ramification of this show."

Schwartz emphasized he wants the film to inspire love and kindness in viewers because he has noticed "a severe lack of empathy" in the world today.

"Everyone is very, very busy looking from his or her or their own perspective, seeing things through the lens of their own grievances, all of which are valid," he said.

"But the ability to put oneself in another person's shoes, to try and think about what life, the world or a specific issue looks like from the way they see it [is also important]. The more we can do that, then the better I think we'll all function as a society."

The composer said he remembered working on his 1971 musical, Godspell, and finding meaning in Jesus Christ's simple mantra that everyone should treat people the way they would want to be treated themselves.


"That's the basis, I think, of all religion at its core, once you take out the deity of it," he said, adding it was very important to all involved that The Prince of Egypt sought to underscore the commonality of humanity, as opposed to telling the story that sounded like, "My god is better than your god."

Much like Hamilton and Waitress, the digital version of The Prince of Egypt allows audiences to view world-class stage entertainment at home for an affordable price.

"I'm so happy about this kind of new phenomenon with ticket prices being high and the pandemic [creating] difficulty for people getting to the theater," Schwartz said.

"Recording the live production and, therefore, making it much more accessible to a broader audience is a wonderful thing. I'm very proud to be part of this emerging genre."

Producers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg first approached Schwartz about creating the music for The Prince of Egypt animated movie in the mid-1990s.

Schwartz traveled to Egypt with a number of other creatives to get inspiration for the film, which would eventually feature the voice talents of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steve Martin and Martin Short.


Schwartz returned home and penned the soundtrack, which includes the memorable songs "Deliver Us," "All I Ever Wanted," "Through Heaven's Eyes," "I Will Get There" and "The Plagues."

It also included "When You Believe," which Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston turned into a huge radio hit.

"We were actually in the Sinai Desert, and one of our directors -- Steve Hickner -- said that he felt we needed a big, anthemic musical moment when the Hebrew tribes finally secure their freedom and are going to be able to leave Egypt and get out of bondage," Schwartz said.

"I was thinking about that and had kind of a little bit of a tune that came into my head and the next morning, we actually climbed Mount Sinai," he added. "We were at the summit for the sunrise and sitting there, looking out over the desert and thinking about what Steve had asked. That's the beginning of where that song came from."

The composer's other works include the blockbuster Broadway musicals Wicked and Pippin, as well as the film soundtracks for Enchanted, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.


His advice for aspiring writers and composers is to learn as much about musical theater and film music as possible, and then figure out what works and what doesn't.

"Our newer wonderful writers such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are clearly so well-informed about the history of musical theater that came before them," Schwartz said.

"The next thing is pretty simple -- write something," he added. "I learned so much from just creating something from scratch and seeing it in front of an audience. ... Musical theater, I think, is something one learns both from studying what went before and then actually doing it."

Latest Headlines