'The Little Prince' review — a whimsical spectacle for the inner child in us all

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    April 11, 2022
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    If you think you’re too old or jaded to watch in wonder as someone flies above your head while rose petals shower down, think again.

    It’s unfortunate that this dazzling moment doesn’t come until after the curtain call, when some hurried audience members might miss it. Until then, most of the choreography, gymnastics tricks, and even aerial stunts of The Little Prince — director/choreographer Anne Tournié and librettist Chris Mouron's adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved book — feel too small for the vast Broadway Theatre.

    However, by eschewing the trappings of a traditional play, this production asks audiences to do the very thing the book does: Embrace your inner child, the curious and simple one that's captivated by twinkling lanterns, prancing sheep, the love between friends. That much stays intact in this Little Prince, a whimsical spectacle to delight anyone with a little imagination. Even the smallest movement bursts with disarming playfulness that honors the spirit of the show’s source material. For that alone the production is successful, despite its safeness in animating de Saint-Exupéry’s sprawling world.

    “Safeness” here refers to the show’s scope of movement, not literary accuracy. Little Prince purists might bristle at the liberties Tournié and Mouron have taken — the show is best described as a dance theatre piece inspired by the world of The Little Prince, which gives leeway to strip away most of the book’s plot details. Mouron, doubling as the narrator, recites just enough text to show the inspiration for each scene’s choreography. Her presence makes the audience feel like kids again, being read The Little Prince by a loved one who voices every character. (She's also a de facto body double for the aviator, the book’s narrator, here danced separately by Aurélien Bednarek.)

    A company of 16 dancers takes it from there. Each sequence abstractly recreates (sometimes disjointedly, but no more than the book itself) a moment in the journey of a young prince who, curious about the universe beyond his planet and the rose he tends to, discovers a puzzling assortment of misguided adults on other planets and shares his encounters with a marooned aviator on Earth. Terry Truck’s music and Marie Jumelin’s video projections complete the atmosphere, though these elements reflect two of The Little Prince’s missed opportunities: to have a live orchestra elevate the evocative score (the music is pre-recorded), and to incorporate de Saint-Exupéry’s iconic illustrations (the projections are rendered in a rather flat, video game-esque art style).

    Another missed opportunity is the prince himself, Lionel Zalachas, a clear triple threat (dancer/aerialist/gymnast) who is not used to his fullest extent. He merely runs around the stage for multiple numbers, though he's endearing as he watches the world unfold with believable wonder. In contrast, the Vain Man (Antony Cesar, who later performs the aforementioned ending flight), given license to leap and dance with abandon, is the sole character that takes full advantage of the stage during his solo and earns the praise his character craves. Laurisse Sulty also makes an exquisite rose in her few scenes, standing out even among an ensemble of roses in one ballet. This dance and a ballet of lights are other highlights, if only because the sheer amount of dancers make these numbers feel adequately scaled to the theatre. To Tournié’s credit, her choreography is mesmerizing nonetheless.

    While bigger mostly proves better in this production, there is beauty in small moments, too. The prince and the rose's tender Act 1 pas de deux; the sight of the prince and the fox sitting side by side, watching the stars; the perfect synchronicity between the prince and aviator when they dance to symbolize their bond — a palpable chemistry shines through these moments, and they epitomize the book’s message that love and friendship are the most important things of all.

    For better or for worse, this Little Prince feels like something plucked from a kid’s haphazard imagination, but if such a kitschy quality flies (no pun intended) anywhere, it’s in a story like this. After all, de Saint-Exupéry’s best-known words are, “One sees clearly only with the heart; that which is important is invisible to the eye.” Look at The Little Prince with the eye and see an enjoyable, if flawed, dance show. Look with the heart and you’ll see a beautiful, fun-loving, deeply affectionate tribute to de Saint-Exupéry's book and the child that lives in all of us.

    The Little Prince is at the Broadway Theatre through August 14. Get The Little Prince tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

    Photo credit: The company of The Little Prince. (Photo by Joan Marcus)