One of the summertime rituals now in full swing is kids theater. Kids theater is a bit different than theater for kids. It's theater done by kids. Summer Stages, which is in its 12th year, has set up shop in the UNO Downtown Theatre to present a musical based on Antoine de Saint-Exupery's French classic The Little Prince. Saint-Exupery was a pilot. One of his adult books is called Night Flight and concerns the trials and tribulations of getting mail from one place to another in a small plane. The adult protagonist in The Little Prince is also a pilot. His plane crashes in the Sahara desert. There, the pilot is approached by a peculiar, likable young alien of royal descent who has traveled to Earth from a faraway and desolate planet.
Randy Maggiore, who plays the stranded pilot at Summer Stages, shares the "stages" with about 36 youngsters. Most conspicuous among them, of course, is the outer-space Prince himself. A role alternated between Garison Linn and Alex Watters. I saw Alex Watters. There are also some outer-space types that seem familiar to an earthling: the conceited man (Hannah Doran), the businessman (Rachel Simon), the geographer (Sean Parrish), for instance. And then, there is the lovely outer-space rose (Nina Hutchinson) who is the prince's pride and joy and, so to speak, his sweetheart. In addition, we have the Wall of Roses, the Desert Flowers, the fox, the snake, the little stars, the big stars and even the airplane (represented by five girls in black). The cast, excluding the grown-up pilot, ranges from fourth to 11th graders.
The Little Prince is not an easy story to summarize. It seems to be partly about the difference between childhood and adulthood. The pilot struggles with his real-life adult problem: trying to repair his plane and escape the desert. But he also struggles with another problem: the imagination he lost when he grew up. In his case, this is largely symbolized by the act of drawing. The very first story he tells us is about a childhood drawing of his that adults mistook for a hat. In fact, it was a boa constrictor that had swallowed an elephant. The Little Prince, when he meets the pilot, asks him to make a drawing -- asks him, that is, to rediscover his childhood potential.
The Little Prince also seems to be about loneliness. For the aviator flying through the night sky is an isolated hero. He is also, it should be added, a man intensely aware of the stars, the planets, the larger celestial vision. The prince is from an almost empty planet; his deepest connection is with the rose. In some way, the boy and the man need each other.
The story wanders a bit, but stays in the mood of these themes. For example, the prince meets a fox, who wants to be tamed. Here, loneliness is rooted in nature. The fox also longs for and fears connection.
Much of the story is told in 19 musical numbers -- with the help of Eric Andries and his four-piece band. Kevin Charpentier is stage director and Julie Condy the musical director, while Nicole Boyd choreographed and Charlotte Lang designed the costumes.
I enjoyed The Little Prince, though it did seem a bit long, but then again, my kid wasn't in it. And I think that put me at a disadvantage -- for giving youngsters a chance to perform is what this kind of theater is about.
While The Little Prince is a world classic, Dogs! -- over at Southern Rep -- is so little known that director Perry Martin had the devil's own time finding the publisher to acquire the rights. Dogs! is also a musical (Christopher Siren provides accompaniment on an upright piano). Fifteen dogs (cute kids with droopy ears and tails) live in an animal shelter, or perhaps (to use a more ominous description) a dog pound. They are watched over by an angel. Yes, an angel, a heavenly creature with wings, though she doffs them while caring for her charges.
The dogs tell their stories, often in song and dance. They are a charming bunch of flea-bitten rascals, hoping for the miracle of a big-hearted human who will adopt them -- especially given that the institution's gas chamber otherwise will be cranked up on the following day.
New Orleanians will be proud to learn that in addition to a French Poodle, an English Sheep Dog and a Dalmatian, the kennel boasts a "Blue Dog" -- a runaway, no doubt, from a nearby Royal Street gallery.
- Summer Stages' production of The Little Prince, The Musical explores the generational interdependence of young and old.