To call this new musical version of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s novella “The Little Prince” Cirque du Soleil Lite would be an undeserved compliment. The production has traveled the world, and the version that opened Monday at the Broadway Theater looks it.
Directed and choreographed by Anne Tournie, with libretto and co-direction by Chris Mouron and original music by Terry Truck, “The Little Prince” features some spoken narration, in English with surtitles, and a few songs, in French with surtitles. But this version of the classic is basically a ballet with circus acrobatics thrown in.
George Balanchine once said there are no mothers-in-law in ballet. In other words, dance is not great at telling a story. And what’s on stage with this “Little Prince” is terrible storytelling.
Things get off to a bumpy start at the beginning, and the Aviator’s plane crash is the least of the problems. The Aviator (Aurelien Bednarek) is too busy dancing to narrate the story, so another character (Mouron), shows up to speak for the Aviator or Saint-Exupery or a small woman playing a fop in Jiminy Cricket drag (costumes by Peggy Housset).
We immediately can identify the Little Prince (Lionel Zalachas) because he is the guy wearing a bad blond wig and walking on a big ball. There’s a lot of walking on big balls in this show. Fortunately, this Little Prince soon retires his big ball to wrap his wrists in ropes or elastic bands that allow him to fly above the stage and twist himself into various interpretations of a pretzel.
While performing these acrobatics, the Little Prince meets the Rose (Laurisse Sulty), the King (Joan Bertrand), the Vain Man (Antony Cesar), and other characters from the book. If you have not read that book recently – “recently” being the operative word here – you will not know what’s going on as the title character travels to many planets.
Tournie’s choreography is part Petipa, part Horton, part Tharp, part Barnum & Bailey. A typical non-balletic flourish is for the dancers to lift themselves on one hand and kick their bare feet in the air. Truck’s dreamy music, with its electronic effects, should do nicely at the next White Party, to be played at 6 in the morning when the drugs are beginning to wear off.
Most disappointing are Marie Jumelin’s video designs, projected throughout the show on the upstage cyclorama. Jumelin attempts to duplicate Saint-Exupery’s illustrations. Rather than evoking an elegant simplicity, the animation is simply crude.