The Broadway Review: The Little Prince
Such potential. That was the thought floating around my head as I watched the Broadway production of The Little Prince, especially once the very pretty but not very engaging dance play came to an end on that early Sunday night performance. Based on the beloved 1942 novella, “The Little Prince,” the slightly surreal story, published just after France’s liberation during World War II, has been turned into this somewhat extravagant stage show by the Avant-Garde stage director and choreographer Anne Tournié (Le Cabaret des Années Folles), best known for creating shows heavy on acrobatic movement. She, with librettist and co-director Chris Mouron (Doubles d’Âmes) and the original music created by Terry Truck (Mélodies d’Exil), toured this creation all over the globe, playing in Australia and Europe before finally touching down at the Broadway Theatre this spring. One would think they would have utilized the time better, and found out that, while being very pretty to look at, just doesn’t find their way in and through, basically failing in their grand attempt to amaze us, or even hold our attention.
Working hard to create a wonderland of almost mystical proportions, the creative team tries to unwrap the story of a young prince who travels through space, landing on different planets, including Earth, in an attempt to understand humanity, connection, as well as themes of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss. It always struck me as a very adult-themed children’s tale, filled with fantastical ideals and out-of-this-world landscapes, with a young dreamy angelic boy at its center. Sounds perfect for this type of theatrical presentation, full of dance and aerial acrobatics, and the production does its due diligence, trying hard for that level of dreaminess. But from a surprising lack of expansive acrobatic ideas at its core, The Little Prince becomes more of a dance play, with little of the wondrous feelings that may be a Cirque du Soliel show can generally muster. And even that Canadian company is struggling, finding it more and more difficult to do just that; fill us with that special kind of magical wonder. But when they do discover that pathway, the outcome is far more than this Little Prince provides.
Based on the international book phenomenon that has sold a stunning 200 million copies, and has been translated into 250 different languages (so far), the stage show, using its wide array of compelling and fascinating creatures from seven different planets dressed in colorful abstract creations designed by Peggy Housset, attempts to engage while representing all kinds of complications that exist in the world. Some of the costuming work its magic on us, while others surprisingly seem clumsy and overly stuffy, once again making us sit back away from the show emotionally, rather than leaning in.
The Little Prince leans heavily on the dance portions, with only the odd bit of aerial acrobatics thrown in every so often. The moments are generally beautiful, thanks to the flying expertise of Foy, in front of some pretty innovative projections designed by Marie Jumelin (The Nutcracker ballet in Rome) and programmed by Etienne Beaussart (Sokol’s Magic Romance), although the high wire tricks start to feel repetitive and unoriginal the more the show flips from planet to planet. In that tedium, the stage production begins to unspool, trying too hard to capture our heart and challenge our imagination, but never fully using that potential to its fullest.
Guided by a preposterously overly-accented narrator, portrayed by librettist/co-director Mouron, the allegorical tale attempts to be mystical, revolving itself around a man who fell to earth, the Aviator, portrayed by Aurélien Bednarek (Leila, the Land of Imagination), and the precocious young nymph-like boy, The Little Prince, played by the muscular man-child Lionel Zalachas (La Perle) that he encounters in the desert, who in turn, has been thrust into the universe by his one singular Rose, played beautifully and elegantly by Laurisse Sulty (Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère). Each planet visitation unpacks a story and a lesson, and there are a few, seven to be exact, ushered towards us by Mouron’s Narrator in a sing-song-like manner that becomes increasingly monotonous and therefore, meaningless by the end. We stop listening, and reading, as the accent is so rich and heavy that we lose our balance, as our eyes increasingly turn to the subtitles on each side of the stage, reading when we would rather be absorbing. Definitely not a helpful tool in the end, as it keeps us at arm’s length from the story and one step further away from connection.
The journey within the first act is somewhat dull and distancing, never really finding its way in. In many ways, it starts to feel like another show, in particular Paradise Square, that tries so so hard to be something spectacular and emotionally touching, but never really gives us a reason to lean in. The Little Prince asks us to follow the wild birds, but does not give us much to be sparked by. Zalachas, as the young prince, tries his best to be both captivating and innocent, gazing out at the audience with the same wonder that the production is hoping to have emulated back. He truly is a gifted performer, but the acrobatic work, both aerial and on that big ball quickly becomes repetitive, as is the choreography in general. The sense of awe that we see on the prince’s face is not reciprocated.
Characters fly forward and disappear quickly, each showcasing a graceful talent, but never given ample opportunity to expand the horizon, even inside the fine visual work done by lighting designer Stéphane Fritsch (Train Fantôme) and sound designer Tristan Viscogliosi. The Lamplighter, embodied by Marcin Janiak swings through the skies trying his best to light up the world, as does the self-obsessed Vain Man, portrayed by Antony Cesar, the frantic Businessman, played by Adrien Picaut, Joän Bertrand as The King, William John Banks as The Switchman, as well as the Drunkard, portrayed by Marie Menuge, but the structure and the style has let go of our hearts, failing to pull us in and keep us there.
The second act does the job a tad better, maybe because we all have finally accepted the idea that this show is really a dance show, with some fine classically-inspired choreography given by the likes of Dylan Barone as The Fox and Srilata Ray as The Snake. They, and maybe I, finally embraced the rhythm of the piece, more so than in the first half. It might have also been one of the employees of the theatre who said at intermission that most people were expecting more circus, and not so much a dance show. He was right, and maybe that helped change my disappointment into something akin to acceptance.
The aerial stunts are beautiful, but very repetitive, and leaving the most spectacular one to the curtain call seems like a mistake, which in some ways is exactly what this show is all about. It’s not about trying to pull us into the magical world of The Little Prince. They thought that the video projections and the energetic dance movements would amaze us into submission, but the bland difficult-to-follow narrative and its delivery fails the piece in the end. The Little Prince never really gives us a story to emotionally invest in, and without delivering a higher level of acrobatic inventiveness to make it spectacular, the final product drops dull and uninspired.
“All grown-ups were once children, but only few remember it,” they say, yet I doubt I’ll remember this show as this planet’s spring swings finally into summer.