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BWW Review: A LITTLE PRINCESS at Wilmington Drama League

Sara Crewe (Catherine Rose Enslen) & Becky (Talia Speak) in A LITTLE PRINCESS

As some may know and many may not, Wilmington Drama League has a children's theater division called Chrysalis Players. I believe for many years, a Chrysalis production has occupied the stage during the Christmas holiday. Chrysalis productions employ all ages, including adults, but normally the shows focus on young actors in lead roles. Recently there was 13 The Musical, BIG The Musical, and Miracle on 34th Street. Of course, my favorite Chrysalis production took place several years ago. It was Cinderella by Roger & Hammerstein. It's my favorite not only because I played the Queen, but because the Music Director proposed to me during curtain call of an SRO closing night. (We have been happily ever-aftering for 15 years.) I feel it important to advise the readers of Chrysalis' young actor initiative for two reasons: (1) to inform as many people as possible about the opportunities available for young aspiring actors at WDL and (2) to give perspective as to the focus of this review.

A LITTLE PRINCESS by Brian Crawley(Book/Libretto) and Andrew Lippa (Music) is a very loose adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett 1888 novella of the same name. Additionally, the novella has been adapted twice for the screen - once in 1939 under the title The Little Princess starring Shirley Temple (the version I am most familiar with) and again in 1995 as A Little Princess set in New York City and India. While the novella surrounds its reader with fairy-tale allusions and literary touchstones, elevating the work to be named among the major works of Victorian literature, the Crawley/Lippa version is, well, boring. Personally, I expected more from Mr. Lippa.

Separated from her father and the openhearted Africans who have helped him raise her, young Sara Crewe is sent to boarding school in London. When things go badly for her there, her imaginative powers come to the rescue - helping to transform a drab institution into a place of magic and mystery. As the girl wins the affection of the other boarders, she draws the ire of Miss Minchin, the dour Headmistress, who forces Sara to work as a maid when her father is reported dead and his fortune seized. Sara counters all of Miss Minchin's best efforts to degrade her, all the while maintaining the grace and virtue of a little princess. (Courtesy of Musical Theatre International)

Supposedly, by expanding beyond the confines of Victorian England and shifting to Africa with its exotic locales and lively African music and dance, the outcome was to create an unforgettable journey around the world. After two and one-half hours, A LITTLE PRINCESS launched into the vast sea of forgettable musical theater.

The music has its enjoyable moments, as in the songs Live Out Loud and Broken Doll, and there is energy abounding in Almost Christmas. Other songs seem to recycle a banal cadence of meaningless lyrics scored with underwhelming orchestration. And, the music is the strong part of this work.

Underdeveloped, uninspired characters clunk along, only scratching the surface of the many themes - acceptance, courage, friendship, jealousy, perseverance, social classes. Characters seem to speak a line or two simply for the sake of having a speaking moment and not for the good reason of driving the story forward (or, at least, adding to it).The plot doesn't truly take hold until the end of Act 1, the longer of the two acts. While more than sufficient time is spent in Africa during Act 1, Sara's passionate connection to Africa isn't definEd Strongly enough to illicit deep, heartfelt empathy for her struggles in London. There are so many issues to tidy up in Act 2 that it can only be accomplished in a whirlwind of musical chaos with the cast and set bouncing around from scene to scene, from song to song, causing fatigue for the audience.

The shortcomings of the script and music belong solely to Mr. Crawley and Mr. Lippa. They in no way should be shared by the cast. Wilmington Drama League's cast do the best they can with what they were given. Catherine Rose Enslen charms in her portrayal of Sara Crewe. As Becky, the servant girl, Talia Speak is spirited and genuine. I was fortunate enough to see Miss Enslen and Miss Speak in Little Women last season. Both of these young actors continue to grow as theater artists. Ruthie Holland as Miss Amelia and William Brock as Pasko are two standouts from the adult cast members. Ms. Holland's solo Once Upon A Time is a show highlight. The cutest young actor is, without a doubt, Charlie Kahler as Djembe Boy. His face brightens the stage and his enthusiasm for dance is infectious. Ashlei Randolph's vigorous choreography keeps the large cast in constant motion. Stage Director, Rebecca May Flowers, has a few obstacles to manage given the multiple, back and forth scenes with very large (almost too large) set pieces.

All in all, the entire cast puts forth an energized effort. Their enjoyment in entertaining the audience is forthright and unfettered.

Book by Brian Crawley
Music by Andrew Lippa
Stage Director - Rebecca May Flowers
Music Director - Anthony Vitalo

Wilmington Drama League
10 W. Lea Boulevard
Wilmington, DE 19802
(302) 764-1172

Runs December 9 - December 30

Photo Credit: John McCafferty / MJ MAC Productions

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From This Author Rosanne DellAversano