This month The Light Princess made its stage debut at the Arden Theatre. The musical is adapted from the story written in 1864 by George MacDonald, which itself was loosely based off of Sleeping Beauty. Or perhaps inspired is the correct word as the stories are very much different except that they both involve the life-altering ramifications of a wicked witch's curse. Instead of cursed to sleep, the princess in this story is cursed without gravity—both of the physical and emotional sense. Creative costuming and stage play bring this whimsical story to life, with an original selection of songs and a clever look at what it means to grow up and gain empathy.
If you haven't attended a children's show on the second floor of the Arden, be prepared for a cozy experience. The second floor stage is small and intimate, with the stage mere feet from the first row. A small stage requires clever use of space and costuming, which this production certainly embraced. Five actors play the six characters, including a few moments when the princess of the story plays a child version of herself in miniature (aka puppet). The cast includes the creators of this original adaptation. Tony Lawton literally wrote the book (and the lyrics), and he plays the Narrator along with any number of bit parts. Alex Bechtel composed the music, which is all produced on a piano that takes center stage in this very musical production.
A little warning to parents: this play does deal with death a bit. The princess is shaken out of her element and must deal with the death of a loved one. Death, as she says, means you never come back. No spoilers if you don't already know the tale, but I felt that this warning was necessary as this is a touchy subject for many parents of young children.
The princess floating above the rest of the cast. The theatre didn't use wires to show that she didn't have gravity and instead used clever staging like this.
I attended the play with my nearly four-year-old son. Reading the literature before attending I was a bit apprehensive if this was going to work. It was his first play/stage experience for starters. The recommended age for the play is six and up, and the description on the Arden's website made me think the tone would be much more on the dramatic side, "this play tells the story of a teenager who has no gravity of any kind – in addition to having no feelings for others she floats in the air, unable to ever touch the ground." Fortunately my hesitation was absolutely unwarranted. This play was definitely age-appropriate and my son was smitten.
The princess' ailment of having no gravity makes her a hilarious counterpart to her very serious parents. She grows in size but not in maturity, and the kids loved it. The impression of the princess floating is given using clever staging as opposed to the use of a wire (see above photo). It may not be as strong or easy for the kids to interpret like this, but it certainly was more entertaining this way. The narrator plays to the adult audience, throwing in blips of pop culture that the kids couldn't possibly get but the parents appreciated.
The ending is a happy one, and feels more like a traditional princess tale in the end.
A bonus of the experience is that the cast spends about 10 minutes allowing the audience to ask questions of them. Kids were intrigued both by elements of the story they didn't quite understand as well as how the stage worked, and the cast were eager to answer their questions and pose for pictures after.
The Light Princess runs from April 5-June 4, 2017. The full production, including intermission and talk-back after the play, is approximately 2 hours. Single ticket prices are $18-$36, with discounts available for groups of 20 or more, seniors, students, military, and educators. ASL shadow interpreted performances by Hands Up take place Friday, May 19 at 7 PM, and Saturday, May 20 at 4 PM.
All photos courtesy of Mark Garvin and Arden Theatre