Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 11, 2022
The Little Prince. Based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Directed and choreographed by Anne Tournié. Composer Terry Truck. Librettist and co-director Chris Mouron. Video design by Marie Jumelin. Costume design by Peggy Housset. Lighting design by Stéphane Fritsch. Sound design by Tristan Viscogliosi. Hair and makeup design by Carmen Arbues Miro. Props designer Aurélie Gandilhon. Flying by Foy. Video programmer Étienne Beaussart. Rigging and props supervisor Filleas De Block. Dialect coach Kate Wilson.
Anyone looking for traditional Broadway fare should probably head south in the direction of the Times Square theater district. But I've got to say, after some adjustments to my preconceived notions, I was thoroughly entranced. To be clear, those notions, based on a perusal of preview materials, encompassed the expectation of a flashy mix of shlock and show-offy stunt acrobatics. Fine for Vegas, I suppose, the little voice inside my head admonished. Fine, as well, for Paris, Sydney, and Dubai which saw the show's previous "sold-out runs," as the publicity materials declaimed. But really, this is New York! This is Broadway! C'mon!
What I certainly did not anticipate was that I would be completely won over by the array of prodigious performances, wondrous design elements, lovely dance and music, and, yes, skillful acrobatic work that is incorporated without flamboyance into everything else that is going on. And all this with just a single narrator to provide the nearly plotless framework for a production in which no one else in the cast says a word.
If you are still with me, The Little Prince is based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's novella of the same title, first published in 1943 and still widely read. The theatrical production adheres closely to the book's short episodes about the title character who leaves his home world in order to visit other planets, including Earth. That's where he meets up with the story's narrator, an aircraft pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert. In one sense, the tale is an adventure story as seen through the eyes of an innocent child. But its astute observations about adult foolishness, greed, vanity, loneliness, and, ultimately, the importance of caring for and loving one another raise it to the level of allegory.
The narration represents the show's gentle and soothing side, as if "The Little Prince" were a bedtime story being read aloud to us. Everything else, save for composer Terry Truck's supportive underscoring and dance music, amounts to a tsunami of the show's visual elements.
To begin with, there is Marie Jumelin's video design, a surrealistic and hypnotic mix that is part planetarium show, part immersive exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, part simulation of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and part a sense that you may have indulged in some recreational drugs ahead of the performance.
I was quite taken by two episodes, in particular. One features a narcissistic clown known as "The Vain Man" (Antony Cesar), whose life revolves around gazing into the mirror and taking selfies. When the Little Prince shows up for a brief visit, The Vain Man expects him to do nothing other than admire him. The other scene takes place on a planet where each day lasts for only one minute. This creates a constant workout for the lamplighter (Marcin Janiak) who keeps having to light and then extinguish the lamp illuminating the planet. The accompanying recitation of "Bonjour, Bonsoir, Bonjour, Bonsoir, Bonjour, Bonsoir" comes off like a poem by Gertrude Stein.
The Little Prince benefits greatly from having Anne Tournié on board as director/choreographer. With extensive experience in classical and modern dance, as well as in aerial movement, Tournié has been able to shape the production so that no matter how acrobatic some of the set pieces are, and how skillfully they are performed, it all fits together. It is as if these movements were the most natural thing in the world, or at least in the worlds inhabited by the various characters. In this respect, standouts among the cast are Lionel Zalachas in the title role, who handles the aerial feats most adroitly; Laurisse Sulty, the production's prima ballerina, as The Rose; and Srilata Ray, a Gold Medalist in the Yoga Olympics who, as The Snake, hangs suspended in the air holding on with just a toe or two.
No doubt, there is a lot to take in with a show that runs just shy of two hours (including a 20-minute intermission). And I wouldn't blame you if you still want to think of The Little Prince as another tourist exhibit, like Ripley's Believe It Or Not, or Madame Tussauds. But then again, you never know how you might respond if you were to join me in setting aside preconceptions. To quote the title character, "one sees clearly only with the heart." That, more than the aerobatics, the video design, the dance and music, is the message and the allure of The Little Prince.