Flint Rep brings ‘Little Prince’ to young audiences for holiday gift
FLINT, Mich.–Flint Repertory Theatre isn’t shying away from making brave choices in its first season.
Of course, it helps that they’re building on the foundation of many years as a youth theatre, so they know how to produce a show for children.
The Little Prince, adapted by Rick Cummins and John Scoullar from the novella by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, is a challenging show for young minds. Thankfully, Flint Rep does not underestimate the minds of children or try to dumb down a highly metaphorical play for a young audience. Instead, it presents the work in all its glory and makes sure there are strong visuals, physicality and commanding vocals that mesmerize their audiences and let the understanding fall where it may.
On the Saturday matinee of opening weekend, the children in the audience were spell-bound, silently watching this poetic tale unravel before them.
The Little Prince tells the story of a stranded aviator’s meeting with an alien child deep in the Sahara desert. The child, who is the prince of the title, has traveled from planet to planet trying to figure out his relationship with his rose, a vain flower who loves him but makes continual demands that seem to make her unhappy.
This is a deep show that is about relationships, vanity, materialism, narcissism, and hope. From start to finish, it builds a case for believing in that which we cannot see with the central, most important secret coming from the fox, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
That’s not an easy message to explain to the under-12 set, but The Little Prince is content with sowing the seeds and letting them grow as they will in the hearts and minds of their audience.
Directed by Alex Bodine, this production is told with a cross between realism and expressionism, dabbling in each as needed to best communicate the ideas. Adam M. Dill’s costume designs are beautifully detailed and immediately communicate roles. The Aviator and Little Prince are realistically costumed while the Rose, Men on Planets, Snake and Fox are all given fantastical elements that instantly add to their interest, balancing their relatively short time on stage.
Andrew Licout’s scenic design is sparse and representative. The crashed plane is the only stage piece, with everything else left to Alexander Ridger’s lighting. But it is not a model plane that you see on stage anymore than the Aviator’s original drawing is merely a hat. The plane is a monkey bars of metal strips that the characters climb upon and looks nothing at all like a plane.
Ridger creates the rest of the set playing with shadows to create set pieces, splashing colors to create sunsets and environmental pieces.
But while Bodine expertly puts all of the technical pieces into play to tell this story, it is what he does with the four actors that make this show sublime.
It starts with Brandon A. Wright’s Aviator, the play’s narrator and the one through whom everything is interpreted. He begins the show by telling you about his crash in the desert six years before the show begins.
Wright is a thoughtful, intense Aviator, one who is desperately lonely and becomes increasingly concerned about understanding. He is an Everyman who could just as easily be an Everywoman. He carries a certain disdain for “Grownups” even though he has long since joined their ranks. There is a part of him that recognizes the Prince is his last chance at recapturing his childlike view of the world, his ability to see that which is invisible. Wright has excellent vocal talents and richly imbues his lines with emotional timbre that encourages the audience to invest in all that he has to tell them.
Dalton Hartwell, a fifth-grader, plays the titular role, returning to the Flint stage after earning two Wilde Award nominations last year for his role in “The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But You Teacher Went Right On.” This is an even more challenging role, for he must project an air of mysteriousness while still being relatable. He successfully captures the wisdom of the Prince, making him an old soul.
Together, Wright and Hartwell form a strong bond and their chemistry sells the necessary emotions that we need to understand how this relationship, this week-long meeting transforms both of them.
Josh Popa and Emily Hart Lopez play all the remaining characters, including sometimes the physical representations of chalk drawings. They are what take the play to the level of fantastical, providing the spectacle that mesmerizes the young audience and helps to bring metaphors to a physical level that can be understood by minds both young and old.
Both do an excellent job with both the physical and the vocal demands of the roles. Popa brings an excited energy to all of the Men on Planets and an adorableness to the Fox. He imparts both warnings and truths by fully living out the demands of each character.
Lopez walks the tightrope between petty and vain when she is the rose, behaving in a selfish manner only to eventually reveal that she does so because she loves the Prince. Her snake is mysterious, wise and more than a little frightening.
Together this ensemble takes on a difficult task and under Bodine’s expert direction, work together to weave a story that is filled with beauty, love and loss.
Children’s shows, especially around the holidays, are often filled with laughter and happy endings. This show offers more and demands more from its audience. The ending is beautifully optimistic and filled with a very real hope, but it is also one that is sad and tinged with loneliness and mourning.
Taking your child to this show gives them a beautiful gift, one that shines a light on their inner life, their emotional journeys and expresses a faith that they can see and understand far more than the world typically gives them credit for.