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Subject: LITTLE PRINCE (12-15-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 16 Dec 2017 08:44:45 -0500

text/plain (89 lines)

Last night I headed to the Washington National Opera's family production of The Little Prince, Rebecca Portman's charming work which I had not seen in years! This WNO production is so special in so many ways, first of all because it is cast completely using WNO Young Artists(or in the case of the Mr. Adams, a recent graduate) and secondly because of the warm intimacy of the Terrace Theater, where children and adults alike were completely taken into the story the Pilot told us and we felt we were there with him and The Little Prince, genuinely performed by Holden Browne. The late Maria Bjornson created this production which I first saw at NYC Opera and it still proves to be the perfect setting for a story I have adored since my childhood.

Francesca Zambello
James Lowe
Original Set and Costume Designer: 
Maria Björnson
Lighting Designer:                                          
Mark McCullough
Eric Sean Fogel

The Little Prince: Holden Browne 
The Pilot: Michael Adams 
The Snake/ Vain Man: Arnold Livingston Geis
The Fox: Allegra De Vita
The Water: Raquel González
The Rose: Madison Leonard
The Drunkard/ Lamplighter: Alexander McKissick
The Businessman: Christopher Kenney
The King: Timothy Bruno

The Pilot enters from a side door in the theater and heads to the stage which has a show curtain of a snake engorged in the middle with an elephant inside him. If you don't know the story, there is not much in me explaining what one sees here, so please go read the book!

"When I was six..." has the Pilot taking us into his world as he is joined by 10 children in pajamas and I have to say this children's chorus was sublime and acted superbly to boot; it seemed that they too were having fun.

The curtain rises to reveal a large propeller plane stranded in the desert, a floor of undulating ochre carpet.

About 10 more kids are behind the curtain, so in total, quite a large group, all holding star-like flashlights batons. The "I fly!" section was a perfect was to get the kids' in the audience attention and I think we were all mesmerized. We were supposed to have gone as a family, but due to Sam not feeling well, I took the 8-year little sister of his best friend. As I watched her, her faced never flinched or seemed to be drawn away from the stage.

Mr. Adams dons his goggles and leather jacket looking like a dashing early 20th century pilot and the Little Prince appears as if by magic, "Please draw me a sheep..." Mr. Browne's boy soprano was a dream casting for this part and his blonde wig and costume looked as if he had been pulled from Saint-Exupery's book drawings. Indeed this was the case for every character; simply brilliant.

Mr. Adam's burnished baritone was also perfect casting ( well everyone was) and his facial expressions alone were indeed worth the ticket price. When the Little Prince re-enacted his daily routine on his home planet, we all burst out in laughter as he pulled on three 18-inch high volcanoes on rollers like a kid's wagon. As one spewed smoke, the Prince charmed us all amidst brilliant hysterics while he heated his coffee on top.

The four baobob trees (as later the four hunters) were played by the four male singers in accordion-like green tree costumes with roots and there were additional roots and branches(I assume the kids' chorus) coming from the sides and rear of the stage.

The Prince's founts of wisdom include, " A man who talks serious over and over is just a mushroom..." which also got plenty of laughs and a mime-like "OMG" look from the Pilot. 

Madison Leonard's Rose was in green thorn tights, a golden petal blouse, rose tutu and blonde wig and was meltingly beautiful as the Prince tended to her needs. The kids re-entered with origami birds on poles indicating his flight through the universe. The chorus here is delightful as the soloists joined in with soprano Raquel Gonzalez on the large plane with the price as she floated high notes above the chorus.

Mr. Bruno's King rolled on from the right on a tilted highchair/throne and he too wore pajamas with a robe on top with big pasted stars and a crown that defies description. His warm deep bass is always welcome and the wealth of low notes here was a treat.

The Vain Main had Mr. geist in a giant bellied yellow suit and huge yellow feathered hat playing a kazoo, which got more laughs as well. These characters come and go so fast (as they do in the book), and I am sorry they don't get a real good chance to develop a presence, but their singing and acting are so excellent, that we really do understand the essence of their being.

Mr. McKissick's Drunkard sports a paper boat hat with "" on it, plaid pants that don't fit and a huge barrel around his waist held up by suspenders that has glasses glued to the inside, while the Businessman of Mr. Kenney was in a black and white striped suit, spats and while bald, his head was blown up like a balloon. He had a large cardboard folding sheet that had large numbers on it to count his stars as he smoked a giant cigar. 

Each time he left a character, the Prince was clueless about grown ups actions and behavior, until he met the Lamplighter on a ladder with a blonde wig and scarf(same as him) lighting and extinguishing a large lamp that came from above. The Pirnce loves sunsets and this action has the sun setting every several minutes, which he adores. At this point, I truly felt like I was reliving the book I loved so much while in elementary school and then read in the original when I was about 12.

The finale had the kids in the aisles with paper hats on each with a flag of a different nation on Earth. They were joined by the soloists in pj's and similar hats on the stage and it was indeed a superb rousing chorus as the prelude to the Prince's arrival on Earth.

When the maestro bowed after the break, I had to look in the program to count the members of the orchestra and was amazed it was twelve as they sounded so lush! Bravi! The Pilot starts, "A year before I met him..." and the kids join in as the curtain rises to reveal the same plane, now in miniature, at the rear of the set. A large green snake tail runs across most of the stage. Ultimately, Mr. Geist's Snake enters in a green almost-electric shiny set of tails and vest. His hair is slicked back and he has a red forked goatee with a black Southern tie (think the KFC colonel) that is, of course, forked as well. His hissing esses and portrayal were sheer perfection.

When the Prince realizes his rose is not one of a kind, I begin to feel so sorry for him, but then Ms. De Vita arrives as the fox through a trap door in a velvet suit for her spectacular Taming Aria. This is the one character that seems to get to shine and interact more with the Prince than the others, and it has always been my favorite as well. 

As a well with pail is slid on by the kids, Water enters with Ms. Gonzalez in a long blue and silver shimmering gown with matching blue and white hair. The rest of the cast is now below stage level with torsos and heads popping up at the rear of the stage.

The Prince is about to go with the Snake, but the Pilot scares him off and the Prince tells him, "Take my laugh, it's my present to you..."

I hate this part as I always cry and indeed it is so moving when the Prince gives in to the Snake's embrace, which her also had a puff of smoke and a flash of glitter fall from above along with a yellow scarf which the Pilot retrieves.

The children enter again all in pj's as small lit orbs appear against the rear starry sky: "Look at the sky..." The major characters also appear in their costumes as a large lit star lowers from above over the orchestra and the front row of the audience. There are bursts of confetti from wands the male soloists have on stage and all of a sudden the Pilot is alone.

It makes me cry just to write this and I cannot say enough how this work is NOT JUST for children. There are two performances today and then one tomorrow, so you can still catch it at the Kennedy Center this weekend. It's truly not to be missed luscious music and singing and fun for all ages.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS as I sign off now until next year!

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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