New Rep's "Little Prince": The Taming of the Few

Will Moser & Andrew Barbato in "The Little Prince"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)
The latest production from New Rep is a musical adaptation of “The Little Prince”, the enormously popular 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which reportedly still sells two million copies a year. Others have attempted this in the past in the form of plays, operas and a 1974 musical film version (with Bob Fosse no less), as well as an upcoming animated film. The gentle whimsy of the original language, though, too often seemed artificial when adapted to these other forms. Happily, this particular musicalization, with a pleasant original score with Music by Rick Cummins and Lyrics by John Scoullar, is far more successful. As wonderfully directed and imaginatively choreographed here by Ilyse Robbins, with excellent musical direction by Todd C. Gordon, New Rep’s offering is that welcome exception, quite amazingly managing to appeal to children while capturing the interest of the child in every feeling adult theatergoer. It’s the perfect family treat for the holiday season.

Well, maybe not perfect; one could quibble that the lyrics often feature too predictable rhymes, or that the ninety-minute playing time and basic dramatic arc didn‘t call for an intermission (though it may make the work more family friendly). But this is perhaps as close to a perfect adaptation as one could hope to see and hear. The simple yet profound story remains that of the Little Prince (Wil Moser), from Asteroid B-612, who encounters The Aviator (Nick Sulfaro), a.k.a. “Solitaire”, stranded in the desert after his “third unauthorized flight” and grounded as punishment. The Aviator’s sole friend is his airplane, though he strikes up a relationship with the Little Prince by drawing sheep. The Little Prince is fond of a lovely Rose (Laura Jo Trexler) on his home planet. He also knows a Fox (Andrew Barbato) who believes that truly important things are invisible, and is bored, hoping someone like the prince will tame him. Then there’s the Snake (also played by Trexler) who is the only being with the power to send the prince back to his home planet. Lastly there are the Men of the Planets (all played by Barbato) including a King, a Conceited Man, a Businessman, a Lamplighter, and a Geographer.

Firmly at the helm of this sweetly fragile tale is the magician-like Robbins, who has assembled a literally stellar cast. In the almost impossible task of portraying the beloved but mysterious title role, young Moser embodies both the natural and more mystical traits that characterize this Prince, with a fine voice and confident stage presence beyond his years. The dashing Sulfaro is a perfect complement to his otherworldly friend, with extraordinarily expressive face, voice and movement. Trexler is very funny (and appropriately dangerous when called for). And then there’s Barbato, in several hysterically funny roles, who strikes the perfect tone of almost-over-the-top restrained mania, especially as the Fox. His timing is impeccable, his labile face astounding, his diction precise and his energy seemingly boundless. It’s an unforgettable performance and an indelible lesson in how to command the stage without ever upstaging or overdoing. It’s the smartest, sexiest and savviest work thus far this season. Just to hear him innocently inquire “are there…chickens?” is a wonder. Aiding and abetting these great performances are the harmonious efforts of the creative technical team. The marvelous Scenic Design by Matthew Lazure is a beautiful amalgam of celestial bodies, sundials, compasses and ingenious projections. The clever Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl, fantastic Lighting Design by Karen Perlow, and atmospheric Sound Design by Michael Policare, as well as apt added orchestrations by David McGrory, all contribute to this totally immersive experience.

Full disclosure would require that this critic confess that “The Little Prince” has been one of his two favorite books (the other being “The Velveteen Rabbit”, which has also resisted adaptations). It was thus with great relief that this production turned out so well. There are apt aphorisms aplenty: that “the hardest thing to judge is oneself”, that men in power like the King “don’t own, they reign over”, that one can lose “the wonder, the joy, the feeling (of the) boy I was”. And of course there are the fox’s immortal lines: “Tame…an act too often neglected…it means to establish ties…then we shall need each other; to me you will be unique in all the world; to you I shall be unique in all the world.” Or these: “Here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can rightly see; what is essential is invisible to the eye…men have forgotten this truth.…you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed”. And as Saint-Exupéry elaborated: “It is the time you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important”. At this season of remembering family and friends whom one has “tamed”, those present as well as those absent but still in one’s memory, could the meaning of the holidays be expressed any more accurately or succinctly? Be forewarned: This play could be charmful to one’s spirits. Oh, and by the way, Happy Taming!

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