He's not as famous as Hans Christian Andersen, but 19th-century Scottish author George MacDonald penned his fair share of charming fairy tales. One of his most popular has been adapted into an astonishingly delightful new musical by Mike Pettry (music and lyrics) and Lila Rose Kaplan (book) and produced by Harvard University's American Repertory Theater Institute. The Light Princess, now running at the New Victory Theater, packs a handful of catchy tunes, wonderful performances, and a funny story into a 70-minute musical that's perfect for getting youngsters 5 and up excited about theater.
The King and Queen (Corey Sullivan and Steph Jack) desperately want a child, but they can't have one until the Queen's mean witch sister (Kristin Wetherington) grants their wish. She does, with a couple of caveats: The child will be born without any gravity — meaning, not only will she float, she'll be unable to feel serious emotions like fear, sadness, and love. Additionally, after 16 years, if their daughter doesn't break through the "curse" and experience any of these feelings, she will remain airborne for the rest of her life (and the witch will get to marry the king). But when the light princess (Ashley J. Monet) meets a handsome, guitar-playing prince (Alex Molina) and must save him from a watery demise, her heart begins to stir.
Director Allegra Libonati has taken an old-fashioned approach to creating the light princess' magical world. Instead of wires, actors lift Monet into the air and whisk her across the stage, where she alights on a wheeled performance platform (set design by Julia Noulin-Merat). To create the lake in which the Prince and Princess swim (water is the only thing that can keep her earthbound), spritely, green-clad actors make waves by billowing a thin blue fabric. This effect, combined with Porsche McGovern's wonderful lighting and Aaron Mack's sound design, create enchanting underwater scenes. Arthur Oliver's lush, colorful costumes for the King and Queen lend an appropriately regal touch, in contrast to the more down-to-earth dress of the youthful Prince and Princess.
Pettry's cheerful score gives a bright dimension to this fanciful tale of growing up. Molina is a riot as the song-writing Prince whose lyrics are hilariously terrible (one of the highlights includes "My monkey's got a fluffy head and a long, long tail"). Playful numbers follow, such as the =Molina/Monet duet of the "Marco Polo" song, a charming tune about falling in love. Wetherington unleashes her powerful soprano adding color to lyrics like "I will be your queen," while Ahmad Maksoud and Jason Markoff perform their clownish antics as the two not-so-wise Wisemen and get a big share of the laughs (from audience members both big and small). The onstage band — Pettry on piano, Joe Brent on violin, and Doug Hinrichs on percussion — delivers the musical fullness of a much larger ensemble.
Though there is an innocent love story at the heart of The Light Princess, young audience members will get pulled into the hilarity churned out by this fine troupe of actors, who frequently encourage kids to call out answers to questions, such as "Princess? Where is she?," with a chorus of eager little voices shouting out the answer. Kids aren't expected to stay quiet during this production — and they don't. When the Prince and Princess have their first kiss, a collective groan of displeasure rises from every young, grossed-out spectator. It's one of the most delightful moments in the play, for the adults anyway.
The Light Princess is bound to leave everyone who sees it feeling uplifted. Before kids learn to defy gravity at another musical that's been playing uptown, they should experience the delights of The Light Princess for an unforgettable first taste of live musical theater.
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