BWW Feature: Previewing New Musical THE HAPPY PRINCE
On Friday 3 May, Wilde Theatre Productions presented Hal Cazalet and Michael Barry's collaboration for the first time in a showcase at The Place. The idea for The Happy Prince - their new musical based on Oscar Wilde's story of the same name - was born one evening in a pub in Buxton, where the two men were involved in different projects at the town's summer festival.
Over a drink, they casually found out that both had strong ties to Wilde's work and decided to take the 1888 text and turn it into a musical. "Everything is just as relevant today," they pointed out, introducing the show to the crowd of industry professionals, investors and general public.
It took Cazalet, who directed the piece, a mere 18-day period of rehearsals to take what they had written and mould it into a captivating and visually compelling performance with a gorgeous cast - including Janie Dee and Phil Daniels.
The statue of a young beloved prince watches over a town where sufferance and misery are spread wide. With the help of a swallow, he tries to ease their lives and help in any way he can. A story of sacrifice, poverty and compassion, the original material resonated with adults and children alike when it was first published and went on to join Wilde's most appreciated works.
Barry's book enfolds the main storyline within two scenes set in the harsh factory climate of the 1920s. The people who work in Mere & Son bully each other to a terrible extent, and those who rule over them are mainly mean individuals whose only interest is the monetary outcome of their exploitation. The adaptation then follows into the tale of the Happy Prince, with voluptuous score and lyrics by Cazalet.
The piece shows a clear classical imprint, mixing together hints of Rodgers and Hammerstein with a Jason Robert Brown vibe. Dance and movement shape it strongly, with Barry at the helm of movement direction and Sophie Hurdley and Sam Archer's choreography. The latter two also play Ellie/The Swallow and George/The Prince in a smart double-casting.
At these early stages, the company consists of 13 actors, but it's already enough to deliver the plot with the richness it deserves. The image that the creative team paints is cohesive its choral nature, maintaining a distinct tone throughout. If an entire run in a bigger theatre is secured, the project might certainly benefit from a larger ensemble so that its composite qualities can stand out even more to land the vibrancy of the groups portrayed.
It is, however, an impressive feat for the duo. They manage to convey Wilde's wit and morals with delicate modernity, achieving a noteworthy level of elegance as they make the allegories accessible without decreasing their solemnity.
This is also reached with the conspicuous presence of crucial plot points carried out visually through dance. These predominantly non-spoken and movement-versed instances are found in the second act more than the first, which tips off the balance slightly in the grand scheme of things.
By establishing them earlier on, they would most certainly create an individuality for the piece, therefore raising it to new heights. In any case, The Happy Prince is an enchanting and musically outstanding piece of theatre bound for much more.