Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s elegantly humble 1943 children’s novella The Little Prince is transformed into a visually spectacular, dramatically overblown meld of dance, music, video and, best of all, breathtaking aerial acrobatics in Anne Tournié’s international staging opening on Broadway tonight at the Broadway Theatre.
Staying true to the book’s plot and spirit, with only a few storyline excisions that might disappoint Saint-Exupéry die-hards (the rest of us could do with some additional trimming), The Little Prince is less a standard Broadway musical than a Cirque du Soleil-style entertainment making a New York spring and summer stopover on a tour that’s already included Paris, Sydney and Dubai.
Whether Broadway is a natural fit for The Little Prince – as compared with, perhaps, a Las Vegas residency – will be determined by audiences, but the production certainly delivers on the visual panache. Directed and choreographed by Tournié, with libretto and co-direction by Chris Mouron and original music by Terry Truck, The Little Prince plays out on stage – and in the air – against gorgeous video design (Marie Jumelin) and projections (Etienne Beaussart) that blend straightforward narrative and mind-trip fantasia.
The plot will be familiar to the book’s many readers: A World War II-era aviator crash lands in the Sahara desert, where he meets a young space traveler – The Little Prince – who also finds himself stranded on Earth after visits to various other planets. The aviator – our narrator – then shares with us the various tales that he’d been told by the Little Prince.
The stage production presents each of these tales – the Prince’s doomed love affair with a Rose, his encounters, on other planets, with a king with no subjects, a greedy, star-collecting businessman, a shameful drunk, a selfie-taking narcissist, a rule-following lamplighter and, on Earth, a devilish snake, a flirtatious fox, and a Railway Switchman. Each episode, narrated by Mouron in English and, occasionally, French, with screened supertitles on either side of the stage, imparts a little lesson or hard-won truth, all in support of Saint-Exupéry’s vision of childhood innocence and optimism as the truest state.
“One sees clearly only with the heart,” goes a repeated line in The Little Prince. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
While that sentiment can be debated, this staging of The Little Prince certainly doesn’t short-shrift the eye. Much of it is gorgeous, some of it sublime, and the aerial acrobatics – particularly a sort of vol de deux between the Prince (Lionel Zalachas) and The Rose (Laurisse Sulty) – are thrilling, graceful and beguiling.
The same can be said of Peggy Housset fanciful, colorful costumes and the dazzling lighting design by Stéphane Fritsch. Terry Tuck’s music only occasionally slips onto the generic side, and at its most pleasing combines the avant garde percussive undertones of Laurie Anderson and the irresistibility of Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals.
Everyone in the large cast, whether engaging in various dance styles, gymnastic tumbling or soaring and twisting high above the stage, gets a moment to shine, with the slight, wild-haired Zalachas in the title role impressive throughout. Even when the production crosses into the overlong and bloated, Zalachas comes swinging by, demanding our attention yet again.
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