BWW Review: freeFall Theatre Presents THE LITTLE PRINCE
"Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas--only I don't exactly know what they are!" --Alice in Through the Looking-Glass
Watching young Will Garrabrant in freeFall shows is not unlike watching the lad in Boyhood or the children in the The Up Series: We have gotten to watch him literally grow up before our eyes. I first saw him three years ago as an appropriately pathetic Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. This was followed by his serviceable turn as young Patrick in Mame, an undead flesh eater in The Importance of Being Earnest with Zombies, the rambling R2D2-like droid in the spaced-out Pirates of Penzance, and as small parts in Our Town, Assassins and Marie Antoinette. And here he is, the lead in THE LITTLE PRINCE, garnering standing ovations and the majority of comments overheard after the show. "That young man was so good!" an older woman said behind me. "Could you believe how wonderful that boy was!" another woman stated.
Yes, Will Garrabrant is good as THE LITTLE PRINCE, but there was something missing from the production, and I'm trying to put my finger on what it is.
Garrabrant plays the title role, and he certainly looks otherworldly. With his big eyes, like something from a Keane painting, and donning a coat with lighted stars on the shoulders, he paints a memorable portrait of the iconic child-alien. His hair spikes in a mini-Billy Idol fashion, but I wish his hair was actually golden, as is oft mentioned in the script (and book). Yes, we have to suspend our disbelief with this minor point, but to make the overall work, the specifics need to be noted, and golden locks would have worked much better. Still, young Garrabrant, a fifth grader at Perkins Elementary School-Center for the Arts and International Studies, has the look of a pint-sized Dr. Who, and he becomes the instant favorite of the audience.
Antoine De Saint-Exupery's THE LITTLE PRINCE has been a worldwide sensation since its publication in the early 1940's. The story of an aviator and the mysterious prince from another planet was voted the number one book in France, and is in the top 10 of most-translated works of all time around the world, after the Bible, the Koran and Mao's little red book. For those unfamiliar with the novella, I don't know if this play, adapted by Rich Cummins and John Scoullar and directed by Eric Davis, will be of much help. It often lacks the awe, the magic, that needs to be there consistently, especially for the kiddos to be interested.
The freeFall production strives for a sort of hypnotic, dream-like quality. The acting was fine, especially Logan Wolfe, as the various Men on the Planets, who jolted the play alive whenever he entered the stage. His various puppet masks were amazing, but aside from those and the underused projections, the whole thing felt like a no frills affair. Set aside some of the costumes and puppets, and this production seemed like a show you would find in your everyday black box, not something we've come to expect from the most creative, envelope-pushing theatre company in all of Florida.
Worst of all, having two people interpret various animals--the iconic Snake and Fox--did not work and would probably confuse the small children who may have a hard time realizing that the two performers are playing the same entity (yes, the dancer holds the fox mask and shakes the snake rattles, but those pre-teen novices to the theater might be baffled). Is THE LITTLE PRINCE too slow and talky for the young ones (not to mention the adults)? It doesn't take us to the next level, like great children's works can do (and like the book of THE LITTLE PRINCE certainly accomplishes). Oh, it's intermittently entertaining, but it's not something I thought about constantly after I left the theater. I wasn't moved to the point of tears, although I came close when the Fox said the best line from the book and play: "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Michael David, an Asolo alum, is a fine actor and does the most he can as the Aviator, but it's a rather thankless role. Carolina Esparza also does what she can with the choreographed movement, but the part seemed tacked on. I like it when freeFall takes risks, but adding the choreographed movements to a show is a safe, mundane "risk" that they have tried before to better effect (in Light in the Piazza) and worse (Our Town). So there's no shock of the new here.
Trenell Mooring is sensational as the Fox and the Snake, but it's Logan Wolfe who saves the day. His outfits, his aforementioned masks, and mostly his acting, enliven the proceedings. At times he looked like a Yellow Submarine animated character sprung to real life (the inventive, wild costumes are care of director Davis). Wolfe was funny as very different characters, and at one point even resembled Donald Trump. If there's a reason to see this production, young Garrabrant is getting all the accolades, but it's Logan Wolfe who steals the show.
Nickolas Mathis' set, a rotating turntable a la Les Miz, should work, but it didn't add anything. If you want to see a show where the characters seem to do little else but walk, going nowhere, like the unending road sequences in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise but without the humor, then this is the show for you.
The audience in the matinee I attended was about fifty percent children. Before the play started, I overheard a young man say that he was excited to see the "movie." I was excited for him, too, because he was going to experience a live theatrical event for the first time (not understanding how different it would be from the "movie" he thought he was seeing). Live theater should be more exciting than anything found in the movies; it's happening in real time with real actors, before our eyes, and the stakes couldn't be higher. But I didn't sense the kids in the audience being in awe from this talkfest. They were interested solely because a young boy played the lead, but you could tell many of them were fidgeting throughout, yakking, constantly silencing each other. There's a lot of walking and talking in the show, but very little action that can satisfy many young ones.
Watching this production, I wish a company could recreate the 1974 musical film version, the last Lerner and Loewe collaboration. It featured Bob Fosse as the Snake, and his attire (and even the moonwalk) is said to have inspired Michael Jackson in his "Billie Jean" period. Seeing that live onstage would certainly have stayed with me longer, haunted me more, than this production did. And I bet every child would have excitedly moonwalked as they left the theatre.
THE LITTLE PRINCE runs thru December 24th.