Abu Dhabi Festival’s The Little Prince is packed with grandeur and star power
Will Nicholas Lloyd Webber follow in the same successful footsteps as his father, the legendary musical producer Andrew Lloyd Webber?
That’s the question posed by the 36-year-old’s debut production, The Little Prince, which made its Middle Eastern premiere as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival on April 21 st 2016 at the Emirates Palace Auditorium.
Co-written with Lloyd Webber’s English compatriot James Reid, this modern musical version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1941 book presents the tale of a pilot, marooned in a desert, and his encounter with an alien.
While this production lacked the full theatrical props and cast featured in the version now running in Canada’s Calgary Theatre, Abu Dhabi is treated to a full symphony orchestra (the Heritage Orchestra) brought over from the UK and a Hollywood star. Both added an extra level of grandeur to the proceedings.
The audience gave loud whoops in appreciation as Hugh Grant took to the stage as narrator. For most of the night, Grant wore the same perplexed expression he’s famous for as the bumbling romantic gentleman.
Somewhat oddly, each time he spoke, Grant’s profile was projected onto an old map on the stage screen behind. In fact, the whole musical has an ethereal quality — you feel as though you’re awake in the middle of a dream that you’re trying to make sense of.
Not afraid of a challenge, Lloyd Webber and Reid explored the moral complexities of the Little Prince. On the surface, it is a straight forward children’s story about a pilot (played John Addison) who upon crash-landing, discovers he shares the desert with a little prince (Lorna Want) who has left his asteroid to explore other planets.
The overarching theme, however, is that of a man reconnecting with his inner child, and how, ultimately, what is essential in life is invisible to the eye.
It is to Lloyd Webber and Reid’s credit that Exupéry’s own family have given this version their blessing. But as the story can be interpreted in so many different ways, not everyone can be pleased.
Unfortunately, the story’s more powerful messages were lost on my nine year-old companions, who dozed off during the second half.
The soprano Want was a standout, she renders the enigmatic Prince’s role tenderly and with the vulnerability of a child.
Petals drop down the screen as the Prince’s beloved Rose (Elicia Mackenzie) sings her Latino-inspired melodies.
There are stirring string crescendos in the heart-melting Because it is Sheand lighter moments too — My Little Asteroid bounces along merrily in 70s pop-style and the Fox character’s lively Tame Me has a Dolly Parton ring to it.
The images on the stage screens were hypnotic with moving images of cratered asteroid landscapes, pink clouds of stardust, and a snake who appears as a long trail of dancing fire.
Judging by the five-minute long-standing ovation, Lloyd Webber’s career is off to a promising start.
• The second and final show of The Little Prince has performed at Emirates Palace Auditorium on 23 rd of April at 8pm. Tickets from Dh125 to Dh350. For more details, visit abudhabifestival.ae