How the iconic French children’s book ‘The Little Prince’ became a high-flying Broadway show
The show's cast and creative team have performed this adaptation of the novel all over the world.
"Are you crazy?" was director/choreographer Anne Tournié's initial reaction when her longtime theatre collaborator, Chris Mouron, suggested their next project be an adaptation of The Little Prince. ("I am crazy," Mouron confirmed with a laugh.) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's children's book, which has become one of the bestselling and most-translated books in the world since its 1943 publication, seemed almost too sacred to touch, even though dozens of other creators have done it before.
But once Mouron uttered the idea, Tournié remembered, "In one hour, I have to say, all the story came in my head: who I wanted to place where, everything." From that point on, all nerves were gone.
In many ways, Tournié and Mouron — and composer Terry Truck, another frequent collaborator of theirs — are the perfect people for the task. The French theatremakers have premiered multiple dance- and acrobatics-based shows worldwide. Movement, a universal language, seems a natural way to tell the story of a young boy on a high-flying, interplanetary journey of discovery, and Tournié and Mouron's own global sensibilities prove they know how to appeal to the broad audience the book has touched.
Take your own journey through the history of The Little Prince below, and learn more about how de Saint-Exupéry's words inspired a dazzling visual spectacle that reminds us, like the book does, of the beauty of the world. The cast and creative team also share their connections to the story, from childhood to adulthood.
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The Little Prince summary
For those who haven't yet read The Little Prince or haven't picked it up since childhood, a quick recap is helpful before heading to the show. The action of the book kicks off when an aviator, marooned in the desert, is approached out of the blue by a curious young boy. That boy — the titular little prince — comes from a small planet separate from Earth, where he spends his days pruning baobabs, watching sunsets, and tending to his beloved rose flower. Soon, though, he grows unhappy and wonders what else is out there, so he escapes his planet to explore the universe.
The little prince describes his travels to the aviator, who in turn narrates them to the reader. The little prince talks about meeting a king, a drunkard, a businessman, a mapmaker, a lamplighter and more on various planets, each of whom puzzle the little prince with their "grown-up" behavior and notions of what's important: numbers, knowledge, rules, power. On Earth, his meetings with the aviator, a fox, and a snake teach him about friendship and selflessness, which are truly the most important things.
Though a fantastical story, The Little Prince is based on some details from de Saint-Exupéry's real life. The author was a military aviator who once crash-landed in the Sahara, so his escapades mirror that of the aviator in the book. His own young self — complete with curly blond hair — is also said to have inspired the little prince; his wife inspired the rose; and his New York friend Silvia Hamilton Reinhardt inspired the fox.
The Little Prince is a worldwide phenomenon.
Believe it or not, The Little Prince didn't take off in France at first! Though de Saint-Exupéry was a leading writer by that time, his work was banned under the oppressive Vichy Regime. The Little Prince wasn't published in France until after his death in 1944, following its initial publication in the U.S. in 1943. It's one of very few works published in its original language (French) and as a translation (English) at the same time.
The book didn't soar in the U.S. at first, either — The Little Prince spent a modest two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and critics were confused by its lack of a clear-cut narrative and whether it was truly a book for adults and kids. But they couldn't deny there was something powerful about de Saint-Exupéry's ability to capture the imagination and make insightful observations on humanity, and audiences agreed.
Though its ban in de Saint-Exupéry's home country and its initial mixed reception in the U.S. didn't make for a flying start for The Little Prince, the book would go on to defy all expectations. Now, it's the most translated book in the world behind the Bible and the Quran, with versions in nearly 500 languages. Writers, filmmakers, theatremakers, musicians and artists all over the world have since adapted The Little Prince in their own mediums, and Tournié and Mouron's version alone has traveled to Paris (where it premiered in 2019), Sydney, and Dubai before stopping in New York.
The Little Prince on Broadway is a homecoming.
New York is the latest stop on this show's global tour, and it just so happens to be where de Saint-Exupéry actually wrote the book while in exile from France, making the New York premiere of The Little Prince stage show a homecoming for the beloved story. The Little Prince memorabilia, usually held at Manhattan's Morgan Library, is also currently being exhibited in Paris, joining the stage show in a worldwide celebration of the book's upcoming 80th anniversary.
"I think Antoine would be so surprised to see a show on Broadway with his little prince. But the most important for him is that his book, his legacy, has been transmitted to so many people throughout the world," said Olivier d'Agay, the great-nephew of de Saint-Exupéry. "It's kind of magic. It's so important to be here on Broadway. I mean, it's so meaningful for us. Especially 80 years after, The Little Prince is back [in] New York."
So, what should today's New York audiences expect from The Little Prince on stage? Though the production is a homecoming, this Little Prince isn't a replica of the original tale readers might know — instead, it offers audiences a chance to experience a familiar story in a new way.
The Little Prince is rooted in dance, gymnastics, and acrobatics.
Contrary to what you might expect from an adaptation of a novel, The Little Prince on Broadway doesn't actually contain a whole lot of dialogue. Mouron narrates the action with select quotes from de Saint-Exupéry's book to set the scene, and from there, she steps back to let movement tell the story.
Tournié's choreography is less about perfect technique and more about "the action and reaction of the characters," said Dylan Barone, who plays the fox. Of course, all the performers are trained dancers, acrobats and gymnasts first and foremost, so stunning technique is on display too. Their individual talents all blend together in this production that's best compared to Cirque du Soleil-meets-New York City Ballet.
But the emphasis on emotional storytelling through the movement is what sticks with the audience in scenes like the playful, tender duet between the prince and the rose which makes their mutual affection clear, or the prince's solo aerial stunts that emphasize his "flight" from planet to planet but also his loneliness while doing it. Tournié paid attention to even the littlest details in creating the choreography: for example, the little prince enters balancing on a ball, representative of his tiny planet that's barely bigger than him.
Telling the story this way makes The Little Prince accessible to any audience members who might flock to the Broadway theatre. A stage production can't be performed in every language the book is available in, and certainly not all at once. But when the story is told through movement, everyone can understand every detail, and the "poetry and the beauty" of de Saint-Exupéry's story remains intact, said Mouron.
"For us it was the perfect language," she continued.
"If you read the story, you will forget it after some days," added Srilata Ray, who plays the snake. "But if you're watching live, it's going to stay with you forever."
The stage adaptation stays mostly faithful to the book.
Though most of de Saint-Exupéry's words are left out of The Little Prince on stage, the overall plot of his book remains mostly intact. A couple scenes are nixed; for example, the mapmaker is taken out to create a more seamless transition between the little prince's interaction with the lamplighter and de Saint-Exupéry's description of the many lamplighters on Earth. (That moment is freely adapted into a sparkling "ballet of lights", which Laurisse Sulty, who plays the rose, described as her favorite moment in the show.)
Another major difference is that the aviator is not the narrator; Mouron narrates the words of every character, while a separate actor (Aurélien Bednarek) dances the part of the aviator. But for those who love the aviator, don't fret: the two are intertwined.
"He complements the narrator in the body; he represents the narrator's movements," Bednarek said via a translator. "[There's a] magical collaboration between the narrator and the aviator, who get together to make that one character come to life."
Though a children's story, the book and show appeal to all ages.
You don't have to be a child to enjoy The Little Prince book, and the same goes for the show. De Saint-Exupéry may repeatedly comment on the shortsightedness and "weirdness" of grown-ups, but don't take it personally: it's a reminder to readers of all ages not to lose their childlike imagination, curiosity and love. No matter your age, you'll easily lose yourself in the colorful, whimsical world of The Little Prince show if you've held on to that curiosity — and it's never too late to find it.
"When I was 10, my grandma asked me if I ever read this book... I read the book, but I didn't like it!" d'Agay admitted. "I told her this is a book for little kids. Nice, cute, but nothing really relevant for me... I really discovered this book very late, when I was 16. And then every 10 years I read it. And I find a 'new' book, new messages, new answers to my own questions."
The Little Prince cast and creative team are also living proof that the story has timeless appeal. Each member had a different story to share about when the book came into their life. For some, like Tournié, it was in childhood: she first experienced the story as an audiobook at 12 years old, when her French teacher played it for her class in the gymnasium.
"I just remember that after 10 minutes, I was just in tears listening to that. It was like a new world, a new door opening in my life," she said.
But for others, like William John Banks, who plays the switchman, it wasn't until they got the part that The Little Prince stuck with them. "I ran to the bookstore in Sydney and I said, 'OK, one copy of that', and they said, 'We've always got copies just sitting there at the back'," he said. "I took it to Melbourne and then I was reading it in my little niece's playpen... It was just beautifully surreal to actually be in a children's environment."
Ensemble member George Sanders also read the book in a youthful environment that showed him how the story connects all demographics. "I read it once or twice as a kid. I've come more in contact with it now, since my students at Manhattan Youth Ballet know that I'm in it, and now it's all on their bookshelf. They come up to me and ask me all the questions and show me pictures from the book and their favorite part. So it's beautiful to see what it does for the younger generation as well."
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