The titular character of “The Little Prince” travels between planets. The theatrical adaptation of the acclaimed novella is traveling between nations — France, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and now to the United States, where the production’s co-director and choreographer Anne Tournié and an earnest group of artists and dancers attempt to shape Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s two-dimensional words into an immersive Broadway experience. Unfortunately, that Herculean effort falls flat.
In a way, this is “The Little Prince’s” homecoming. The equally beloved and bewildering children’s story about an aviator’s encounter with a small boy from another planet was written in 1942, while French native Saint-Exupéry was exiled in New York City. In the narrative, the Little Prince recounts his travels to different planets and the troubled adults that inhabit them, illustrating certain flaws of humanity like greed, indulgence and vanity. The novella has already sold more than 200 million copies and launched countless adaptations, begging the question: what’s left for the theatrical production to say? Not much. Knowing this, I marched into the Broadway Theatre excited instead for a feeling that in recent months has felt like a luxury: escapism; the book’s pure, unadulterated whimsy told in the form of gravity-defying acrobatics. Disappointingly, the technical elements of “The Little Prince ” are the very things dulling its magic.
I have grace for the fact that this production, like the Little Prince himself, is in transit. Small-scale malleability is necessary because Broadway is not its only stop. But lengthy dance numbers, amateur projections and a confetti cannon hardly do enough to transport audiences through the solar system. There is room for a giant universe in this giant space, and the expansiveness of the Broadway playhouse exposes the production’s limitations. Only when the entire company is present, colliding and leaping through Tournié’s choreography, does the stage swell.
This is, ultimately, a show about movement, in the form of dance, gymnastics, aerial and acrobatics. Lionel Zalachas, who has played the titular royal since 2019, embodies many of the different styles, displaying a mighty feat of dexterity, strength and balance, while never abandoning his most essential quality: playfulness. And the ensemble of international artists on stage, all making their Broadway debuts, gambol merrily throughout the production. Still, the only performer I would go out of my way to see again is the production’s Rose—the object of the Little Prince’s affection and my own.
Laurisse Sulty as the Rose is a triumph. Her Act I solo is striking, reminiscent in style of a professional ballet and in the energy of a spiritual baptism. The romantic duet she shares with Zalachas following her solo nearly moved me to my feet. At final bows, Sulty earned the audience’s loudest roar. But every moment she is not on stage felt like a chore to keep up with, especially as the choreography grew repetitive.
The tedium is not helped by the show’s costume, projection and lighting designs, which follow a predictable interpretation of the novella’s illustrations. Sound designer Tristan Viscogliosi’s musical choices are more successful because of their novelty—music inspired by the cultures of East and South Asia transport us to the planet of a controlling king, echoing digital notes ground us at trading floors of a stock exchange, snake-charming flutes land us in the African desert.
The music is punctuated by the voice of the Narrator, the lone speaking part on stage, played by co-director and librettist Chris Mouron. Mouron adopts the voices of many characters in the story, delivering chopped and screwed excerpts of the most well-known segments of Saint-Exupéry’s text, while occupying the oddest parts of the stage (perhaps meaning to highlight the dance instead, but coming off as awkward direction). Screens on the side of the stage display the text like a teleprompter — a plus for folks who are hard of hearing or for those who have difficulty understanding Mouron’s French accent and some French lyrics.
It takes work to stay engaged with this production of “The Little Prince.” Work that challenged adults (the couple next to me was one of many to leave at intermission), in addition to the children it is targeted towards. This, coming from a critic who went in prepared to “oohh” and “aahh.” Never did I imagine that the theatrical adaptation of a childhood favorite would require the most adultlike patience to endure
“The Little Prince” opened at the Broadway Theatre on April 11, 2022.
Creative: Libretto Adaptation by Chris Mouron; Original Music by Terry Truck; Based on the Book by Antoine De Saint-Exupery; Directed by Anne Tournié and Chris Mouron; Choreographed by Anne Tournié; Directed by Anne Tournié and Chris Mouron; Costume Design by Peggy Housset; Lighting Design by Stéphane Fritsch; Sound Design by Tristan Viscogliosi; Video Design by Marie Jumelin; Video Projection by Etienne Beaussart.
Producers: Broadway Entertainment Group; By Special Arrangement with Rick Cummins and The Estate of John Scoullar.
Cast: William John Banks, Dylan Barone, Aurélien Bernarek, Joän Bertrand, Antony Cesar, Marcin Janiak, Andre Kamienski, Marie Menuge, Chris Mouron, Adrien Picaut, Srilata Ray, George Sanders, Laurisse Sulty and Lionel Zalachas.