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The Prince and the Pauper

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

It's a surprisingly difficult feat for a musical to successfully entertain children and adults, but I'm happy to report that, at least on some level, The Price and the Pauper achieves this. It's a musical that's safe for parents, kids, and anyone in between, but anyone attending the new show at the Lambs Theatre needs to be aware that the myriad of family-friendly pleasures it offers is not without a price.

Parents or experienced theatregoers may be disconcerted to see the tone of the show change from Disney to overwrought pop-opera at the drop of a hat. The Prince and the Pauper spends a lot of time trying to figure out what its style is, and never quite finds it. Questioning how The Prince and the Pauper works its magic, though, is pointless; it just does. Both adults and kids will have trouble removing the smiles from their faces.

That's because book writers Bernie Garzia and Ray Roderick have made sure there is something in The Prince and the Pauper to which everyone can relate. The young beggar Tom Canty (Gerard Canonico) longs for the easy life of Prince Edward (Dennis Michael Hall), who in turn longs for a life away from the responsibility of royalty. When the two meet (and sing the nice if predictable "If I Were You"), they end up exchanging clothes and lives.

There are unquestionably complications. Both boys are having problems living up to their fathers' expectations (both fathers - King Henry and John Canty - are played by Michael McCormick), the prisoner of war Miles Hendon (Rob Evan) is returning to the royal house where his good name and lady love (Rita Harvey) have been usurped by his power-hungry brother Hugh (Stephen Zinnato), and so on.

Neil Berg has composed the music for the songs to bring the story's many heightened emotions to the surface, and done it with a fair amount of success. His songs are a strong mixture of heavy chorus numbers, duets (especially for the two young boys), soul-searching solos, and even a counterpoint scene in the second act. The lyrics (by Berg and Garzia) generally match the music, but are seldom particularly clever. The serve the material and serve the moment to about the degree one could expect, and little more.

Much of The Prince and the Pauper is that way. While Sam Fleming's costumes are nice, the set (Dana Kenn) and nature of the performances suggest something more high school or community theatre in origin. If this was the intent of director Roderick, it's questionable; he does a lot of cute, decent work, but little of it is outstanding. So much in the show seems to want to please everyone but take no real chances.

Watering down the book and focusing so much on the children helps with this, but in those cases, the adults must fend for themselves, and it's then you're really thankful for the tremendous amount of talent onstage. Whether singing a rousing character-driven drinking song ("Let's Toast") or even an all too-predictable epilogue, the cast is great almost straight across the board.

Rob Evan may occasionally channel Dr. Jekyll or Jean Valjean (roles he's played in the past), but there's no denying his superb comic timing or soaring voice, that make even a hackneyed role like his work brilliantly. Zinnato has a rich, deep baritone voice, but is more cartoony still in his villainous portrayal, while McCormick and Robert Anthony Jones aim directly for the comedy and almost always hit it straight on.

Special mention must be made of the kids. Hall and Canonico make a great pair, working well together, both singing well, and displaying personalities that work for their roles, even if more complex characterizations are missing. More impressive, though, is Allison Fisher as Lady Jane, who has her eyes on the Prince, and who seems to have been blessed with a voice 10 (or more) years more experienced than she is. Her belty voice has a fullness, range, and power like almost no other. Fisher is definitely one to watch.

Perhaps the greatest charge that can sensibly be leveled against The Prince and the Pauper is its length. Two and a half hours is fine if the story can support it, but a surprisingly weak second act makes the whole thing drag a bit toward the end. With an 8:00 curtain time, the bedtimes of the members of the show's target audience pass quickly.

Still, for all its imperfections, The Prince and the Pauper does what it set out to do. The audience I saw it with certainly seemed to be having a great time. While being unable to avoid acknowledging the show's problems, I couldn't avoid noticing I was having a good time, too.

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The Prince and the Pauper
Lamb's Theatre, 130 West 44th Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 15 minute intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Tele-Charge