Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel
Flint Repertory Theatre opened what may become a new holiday classic Friday with their young audiences production of The Little Prince. This magical tale first came to life as a 1943 French novella by poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery, where in its original language it is known as Le Petit Prince. It is a fantastical story of a boy that finds himself stranded on Earth in the Sahara with an aviator and separated from his most beloved flower. He encounters an array of creatures that provoke many deep thoughts within the little prince and in turn, the audience.
This work was adapted for the stage by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar with striking ease and charm. The original work, though a narrative, is marbled with beautiful poetic phrasing and imagery, and this production found immense success in every element of design and performance by keeping things positively radiant in its grounded and fluid simplicity.
The cast was made up of an ensemble of just four talented individuals, two of whom played multiple characters. Dalton Hartwell, a fifth grader hailing from Davison, leads the cast as the titular character with lovely innocence and earnest compassion. Brandon A. Wright plays the aviator, serendipitous companion to the little prince. Wright plays this part heart first and endeared Friday’s audience into listening very closely to his powerful and understated words. Josh Popa (Fox and Men on Planets) and Emily Hart-Lopez (Rose and Snake) round out the cast in physically demanding roles executed with precision and grace. Both move exquisitely about the stage in several different styles. Hart-Lopez captivates as The Rose, and Popa enchants us as The Fox. A highlight of the production for me was the silent, not-quite-a-dance, performed between The Prince and The Fox as they get to know each other and become “tame”.
As stated before, the design elements were kept simple and crisp but also warm and exciting. The set, designed by Andrew Licout, is a mostly empty stage, which leaves a lot of depth for performers to play with spatial relationships, but when the large scrim that had been used for shadow-play throughout the show is lifted at the end to reveal “the universe”, the sense of magic is palpable. Alexander Ridgers’ lighting is dramatic and sharp, and Tom Whalen’s sound design creates a subtle and gripping pulse to the scene work. Costumes are designed with Adam Dill’s signature touch of whimsy.
The subject matter may seem a little deep and at times heavy for children, but I absolutely do not feel it is too much for them to digest. To hear poetic language, follow a narrative, and ask questions if they want or need to is the very reason to expose young people to the arts. This story explores not simply what it means to love, but to completely love something.
The use and care of such details as tempo and shape elevated this production to the next level. Director Alex Bodine, along with the entire team, was able to craft a professional show that Flint is lucky to have upon its stages.
The Little Prince is playing at The Flint Repertory Theatre on the Bower stage this weekend and next and is simply not to be missed! A perfect outing for a young family or as a date night, it can be appreciated by all ages and even though it is not a holiday themed story, it will warm your heart just as well as any Christmas Carol.
Catch The Little Prince December 15th-23rd (2:00 pm matinees Saturday and Sundays, 7:00 pm shows Friday’s and Saturday’s). Tickets can be purchased at flintrep.org or at The Whiting Ticket Center 810-237-7333