BWW Interview: Alexa Niles And Kayleigh Jarkowsky of A LITTLE PRINCESS at DreamWrights Center For Community Arts
The musical A Little Princess by Andrew Lippa and Brian Crawley, is based on the 1905 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It first appeared on stage in Mountain View, California in 2004 and premiered in London in 2018. The story opens with Sara Crewe in her room at her school in London. She tells Becky, a maid at the school, about her life growing up in Africa and how she came to be in London. The musical takes the audience on a journey filled with memories, wild flights of imagination, magic, heartbreak, friendship, and love.
Though the musical is not as well-known as some, A Little Princess is sure to capture the hearts and minds of audiences of all ages. You can catch this heart-warming show at DreamWrights Center for Community Arts October 25-November 3. I have had the honor of working with this cast and crew as the assistant director. Alexa Niles, who portrays Sara Crewe, and Kayleigh Jarkowsky, who plays Becky, took a few moments out of their rehearsal schedule, and we all talked together about our experience with this show.
BWW: What was the first show you were ever in?
Alexa: The first show I did was Pink-a-licious, at a children's theatre, and I played a dream cupcake-a dancing cupcake. It was a fun time! I think I was about 7 or 8 when I did my first show.
Kayleigh: I think this is my first show-Seussical, Jr., and I was the Baby Kangaroo. I think I was about 10.
BWW: What do you love most about being on stage?
Kayleigh: Just the fact that you get to bring joy to the people that are watching the show. You get to bring them to where you are and give them that experience. It's also a good character-building thing for yourself-if you're not very confident, it helps you grow.
Alexa: I also think it's a great escape. I've done sports and other things, and nothing compares to the way you just become someone else on stage. You don't have to worry about anything else that's going on with you, you just have to be in the moment, experiencing what your character is experiencing. I think it's a good escape from other things in life.
Kayleigh: When you do a show, the people you do it with also become your family. I think that's really fun.
BWW: What is your favorite role so far?
Alexa: For me, I played Little Red in Into the Woods in seventh grade, and it will probably always be one of my favorite roles. It was the very first musical I had ever seen; I remember my mom playing it at home, and I was scared of Bernadette Peters on the TV. So, it was really a dream role for me.
Kayleigh: This past summer I played Ado Annie in Oklahoma, Jr. It was really fun because it was definitely not my personality. I enjoyed being able to explore that character.
BWW: Why did you want to be in A Little Princess?
Alexa: I wanted to be in the show because a lot of people I knew from previous shows were a part of it. I had met the director, Amanda, before, and I had friends who said they were going to audition for it. Everyone I talked to about it was excited and said how great it was going to be. That is what initially drew me to it. No matter what I do, I become so close to the people I meet, and that really makes the experience worthwhile.
Kayleigh: I had never heard about DreamWrights before. My sister's voice student was auditioning for it, and my sister told me about it. I had always wanted to do this show, so about two days before auditions I decided to go for it!
BWW: What is the most challenging part of the show for you?
Alexa: There are a couple very different challenges for me. One is that, while the role is not very far off from who I am, it is younger than I am. It's hard because I'm taller than almost everyone else in the cast, so it's very clear that I'm probably not that young. I've had to really think about and adjust the way I speak, the way I move my body, and the way I think when I'm on stage to fit my character. The other part is that the show is very go-go-go for me. There are some really intense moments and then there are some lighter moments, so it's about finding that balance and being in the moment while staying aware of where we are in the script.
Kayleigh: There are three main challenges for me. The first is the accent. It's hard because I have to think about it constantly. If I don't think about it, then I'll lose it, and it'll sound really weird. Or I'll go super-fast and no one will understand what I'm saying. So that's one of the challenges-just keeping the accent. The second challenge is that I've never played a character like Becky before. It's hard to be the character who is always respectful and is scared of everyone and always gets bullied. I've always played the character who is the bully or has a strong personality. The third thing is that I was really challenged with dancing in this show. I had to work hard to get my Irish heel-click-I got it, so I was really happy about that, but it took a lot of work. And then there's my dance solo, which is something I definitely am not used to.
BWW: It's been amazing watching Alexa really find her character as Sara Crewe over the two months of rehearsals. When she interacts with Captain Crewe in "Soon, My Love", it makes me think about some of the moments I had with my dad growing up. The dancing in the show is incredible! Our choreographers, Andrew Smith and Brady Bennett have created beautiful, energetic, and moving dances that serve to enhance the experience of the songs. The cast has really pushed themselves to learn some difficult dance moves, and it has been well worth all of the hard work and sweat!
BWW: What is your favorite song in the show?
Kayleigh: For me, I think it's "If the Tables were Turned". I feel like the four of us who are in that song all get along really well, so it's easy to play with each other and have fun in that song. I also love "Let Your Heart be Your Compass". Everyone is on stage for it, so it's just this really great big moment in the show.
Alexa: For me it's Captain Crewe's song "Soon, My Love" because I love the things I get to do during that song. I also love "Soldier On". At the beginning of rehearsals, I hated that song. I just didn't really get it, and I didn't feel like it resonated with me at all at that point. But when I got the script out of my hands and was just standing alone on stage, I let myself make choices and realized how powerful that song really is.
Kayleigh: Then there are the songs that Shelly Stewart, who plays Miss Minchin, gets to sing!
Kayleigh: Both of the times she sings "Lucky" are so great.
Alexa: We're not doing very good just picking one song.
Kayleigh: They're just all so great!
Alexa: It's true. "Be a Princess" is really funny...
BWW: I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite song, too! I love the facial expressions and emotion on songs like "Lucky" and "Be a Princess", but "Live Out Loud" and "Soldier On" give me chills almost every time I hear them. "If the Tables Were Turned" is one of the most light-hearted songs in the show, and you really get a sense that not only are the characters friends, but the actors as well. I've also come to truly love "Once Upon a Time"-the actresses playing Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia have created a heart-breaking and beautiful scene around that song, and the song serves to help the audience really understand those two characters.
BWW: What song do you think audiences will go home humming, and why?
Alexa and Kayleigh: "Let Your Heart be Your Compass".
Kayleigh: It's the catchiest song.
Alexa: It's also really the heart of the show, and the tune is played over and over again.
Kayleigh: I always go home singing it.
Alexa: I also think there are a lot of songs in the show that, even though they're beautiful, have less memorable melodies.
BWW: I completely agree with Alexa and Kayleigh. Most nights I go to sleep with "Let Your Heart be Your Compass" going through my head. The melody is beautiful.
BWW: If you could play any other character in this show who would it be and why?
Alexa: Lavinia. I love that part. I would love to be mean. I've only gotten to play the mean person once, and it's so fun because that's very not me. I'm usually cast as the sweet one.
Kayleigh: I think if I was older it would be Miss Minchin.
Kayleigh: It's just so fun because she gets to be this super-mean person who pushes everyone around. Sara would be a fun role too because you get to explore a lot of new things and learn a lot in that role, which I've seen you do, Alexa.
Alexa: Yeah, it's probably been my biggest role, so I've definitely had to put my thinking cap on and stay focused the whole time. I've had to learn how to keep up my stamina and keep my breath while running from one part of the stage to the other and from one song to another. I could never pull off the Becky accent, so I don't think I could do your part, Kayleigh.
BWW: I would probably enjoy playing Miss Minchin-of course I'm actually old enough to play that part!
BWW: Sara's father goes all the way to Timbuktu. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you want to go and why?
Kayleigh: It would definitely be England.
Alexa: That's fitting.
Kayleigh: I've never been there, and it just looks like everything's so pretty there. And of course, Tom Holland lives there, so there's a chance of running into him. I'm actually going to Ireland next summer with my choir, so I'm really looking forward to that.
Alexa: If I could go anywhere...I went on a spring break trip this past year with a school group to Italy and France. I loved Italy! I want to learn Italian in college. I think it's the most beautiful place with the most beautiful people. It was fantastic, so I would go back to Italy.
BWW: Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
Kayleigh: Come see the show! It's too great to miss.
Alexa: We work with great people, too. And everyone here wants you to succeed, which is important.
Kayleigh: It really has been a great experience.
This production of A Little Princess showcases the talents of children, teens, and adults. It truly is a theatre experience for all ages, so get your tickets today at www.dreamwrights.org.