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Review: ‘The Little Prince’ travels, but does not transport

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The titular character of “The Little Prince” travels between planets. The theatrical adaptation of the acclaimed short story travels between nations – France, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and now the United States, where production co-director and choreographer Anne Tournié and a serious cast of performers and dancers attempt to shape Antoine from The two-dimensional words of Saint-Exupéry in an immersive universe Broadway experience. Unfortunately, this Herculean effort falls flat.

It is in a way the return to the sources of the “Little Prince”. The equally beloved and disconcerting children’s story of an aviator’s encounter with a little boy from another planet was written in 1942, when Frenchman Saint-Exupéry was exiled in New York. In the story, the Little Prince recounts his travels to different planets and the troubled adults who inhabit them, illustrating some of humanity’s flaws like greed, indulgence and vanity. The short story has already sold more than 200 million copies and launched countless adaptations, asking the question: what is there left to say about the theatrical production? Not a lot. Knowing this, I walked into the Broadway Theater excited instead for a feeling that for the past few months has felt like a luxury: escape; the pure, unadulterated fantasy of the book told in the form of gravity-defying acrobatics. Unfortunately, the technical elements of “The Little Prince” are the very things that dull its magic.

I am grateful that this production, like The Little Prince himself, is in transit. Small-scale malleability is necessary because Broadway is not its only stage. But long dance numbers, amateur projections and a confetti cannon are not enough to transport the public through the solar system. There’s room for a giant universe in this giant space, and the expanse of the Broadway playhouse exposes the limits of production. It’s not until the entire company is present, bumping and leaping through Tournié’s choreography, that the stage swells.

It is, ultimately, a performance about movement, in the form of dance, gymnastics, aerials and acrobatics. Lionel Zalachas, who has played the titular royal since 2019, embodies many different styles, displaying a powerful feat of dexterity, strength and balance, without ever giving up on his most essential quality: playfulness. And the ensemble of international performers on stage, all making their Broadway debuts, happily frolic throughout manufacturing. Yet the only performer I would do my best to see again is the Rose from the production, the object of the Little Prince’s affection and mine.

Laurisse Sulty in Rose is a triumph. His Act I solo is gripping, reminiscent in style of a professional ballet and in the energy of a spiritual baptism. The romantic duet she shares with Zalachas after her solo almost moved me. At the final arcs, Sulty got the loudest roar from the audience. But every moment she wasn’t on stage was a chore to keep up with, especially as the choreography became repetitive.

The boredom isn’t helped by the show’s costume, projection, and lighting designs, which follow a predictable take on the short story’s artwork. Sound designer Tristan Viscogliosi’s musical choices are more successful due to their newness – music inspired by East and South Asian cultures transports us to the planet of a controlling king, echoing the digital notes that animate us in the trading rooms of a stock exchange, snake charmer the flutes land us in the African desert.

The music is punctuated by the voice of the Narrator, the only speaker on stage, played by co-director and librettist Chris Mouron. Mouron adopts the voices of many of the story’s characters, delivering chopped-and-screwed excerpts from the best-known segments of Saint-Exupéry’s text, while taking the weirder parts of the stage (which perhaps means putting worth the dance, but that comes across as awkward direction). Screens to the side of the stage display the text like a teleprompter – a plus for the hearing impaired or those who have trouble understanding Mouron’s French accent and some French lyrics.

It takes work to stay engaged with this production of “The Little Prince.” A job that challenged adults (the couple next to me were one of many to leave at intermission), in addition to the children it addressed. This, coming from a reviewer who braced himself for “oohh” and “aahh”. Never would I have imagined that the theatrical adaptation of a childhood favorite would require the most adult patience to last.

“The Little Prince” opened at the Broadway Theater on April 11, 2022.

Creation: Adaptation of the libretto by Chris Mouron; Original music by Terry Truck; Based on the book by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry; Directed by Anne Tournié and Chris Mouron; Choreographed by Anne Tournié; Directed by Anne Tournié and Chris Mouron; Costume design by Peggy Housset; Lighting design by Stéphane Fritsch; Sound design by Tristan Viscogliosi; Video design by Marie Jumelin; Video projection by Etienne Beaussart.

Producers: Broadway Entertainment Group; By special arrangement with Rick Cummins and the Estate of John Scoullar.

Cast: William John Banks, Dylan Barone, Aurélien Bernarek, Joän Bertrand, Antony Cesar, Marcin Janiak, Andre Kamienski, Marie Menuge, Chris Mouron, Adrien Picaut, Srilata Ray, George Sanders, Laurisse Sulty and Lionel Zalachas.