Henry Shotwell as the Little Prince and Christopher Younggren as the Aviator in Children's Theater of Madison's 'The Little Prince.'
The Little Prince, the 1943 novella by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is one of the most beloved stories of all time, translated into nearly 200 languages, made into several films, plays, TV shows and even an opera. To say that this story gets under people's skin is more than just a turn of phrase. A Google image search for little prince tattoo returns a dizzying number of images of men, women and teenagers with quotes, characters and scenes from the stories permanently etched on their bodies.
Children's Theater of Madison's staging of The Little Prince opened Friday at Overture Center's Playhouse and runs through April 17. Roseann Sheridan has directed a stunning production.
As the lights rise, we see a man in classic aviator garb, sitting in a chair, alone. "When I was 6 years old," he begins, "once upon a very long time ago..." Christopher Younggren is wonderful in this role, bringing warmth and depth to a man who is lost. The aviator tells of crashing his plane in the Sahara desert, a scene that is reenacted impressively on stage, lights flashing, wind whipping through the sand, the ghostly crackle of a two-way radio in the dark.
While stranded in the desert, he meets a little prince. He is perfectly cast with actor Henry Shotwell, a Madison eighth grader most recently seen in The Bully, the award-winning short film screened earlier this month at the Wisconsin Film Festival. This little prince is from a planet far from ours. He tells of how he came to earth, of the unhappy grown-ups he met along the way and the love he left behind.
Christopher Dunham's set is perfect for this story, simple and lovely, warmly lit by Jason Fassl. Rachel Laritz's costumes are dusty and sweet and bright when they should be. A highlight of the evening is seventh grader Kailey Boyle as Rose, the lost love of the little prince.
A few scenes from the book are omitted from the play, leaving a leaner, more family-friendly version. The musical numbers originally included in Rick Cummins and John Scoullar's stage adaptation are eschewed for this production, but left in their place are a few awkward, thankfully brief dance numbers.
The Little Prince is a dark story. It addresses themes of mortality, lost love and the things we owe each other that we so often fail to provide. The audience was filled with small children, but even in the quietest moments of the play, they were never restless or crying, never bored or acting out. But they weren't laughing much either. Instead, they watched with a quiet seriousness befitting a story about the things that matter that grown-ups so often can't see.
"But I, alas, do not know how to see sheep through the walls of boxes," the aviator laments in Saint- Exupéry's story, as he rediscovers childhood through the eyes of the little prince. "Perhaps I am a little like the grown-ups. I have had to grow old."