Production photos by: Michael Wharley
After enjoying productions of Andrew Lippa’s musicals The Wild Party and Big Fish, I was super excited when another one of his musicals popped up on my radar. A Little Princess is based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett which follows Sara Crewe who is sent away from her home in Africa to a boarding school in London where she is made an outcast by the headmistress Miss Minchin. Think of Miss Minchin as like Miss Hannigan from Annie but a lot more racist. At the school, Sara befriends an orphan named Becky and both of them rely on each other and the other girls at their boarding school to overcome Miss Minchin to prove that all little girls can be princesses regardless of their backgrounds. This production was directed by Arlene Phillips with Lippa conducting this performance as well as providing the music to Brian Crawley’s lyrics and book. And while this show is a good and family friendly musical, it’s not the greatest.
The important thing about this show is that the majority of principals in the cast are children. Leading the cast is Jasmine Sakyiama as Sara, who really is a star in the making. Not only does she have a wonderful voice, evident in two numbers in Act One – Live Out Loud and Soldier On, but she has a set of acting pipes to match. She also had wonderful chemistry with Jasmine Nituan as Becky, who was just as pleasant to watch. The rest of the kids in the cast were all just as wonderful to watch, each of them having their moment in the sun throughout the show. Rounding out the adult principals were a wealth of West End talent. I’ve been wanting to see Danny Mac in a musical for ages and he did not disappoint as Captain Crewe, Sara’s dad. Also in the adult cast were Alexia Khadime and Olivier Award winners Adam J Bernard and Rebecca Trehearn, who all had lovely solos, but I do feel Rebecca was very much underused considering how brilliant she is. The role of Miss Minchin was played by Sherlock and Safe actress Amanda Abbington, who is making her musical debut. She is a fantastic actress but I feel she was perhaps a tad miscast in this. I’m not sure if it was her acting choices or, maybe the nerves, but I felt her Miss Minchin never reaches the boiling point. It worked in the first act that Miss Minchin was a bit fed up of taking care of all those children (I certainly would be) but in the second act, it felt a bit repetitive.
To be frank, I think act 2 lets down the show overall. There were a couple of moments where loose ends seemed to be tied up very quickly and, kind of, glossed over. There is a whole number about how great Timbuktu is which goes on for about five minutes, but there’s no real closure for Miss Minchin and her sister Miss Amelia. There was also a very bizarre interlude that went on for two minutes during the show where nothing happened. There’s also a moment where Sara snaps at Becky for no real explanation which I thought was a pointless addition. And on top of this, there were a few slightly awkward pauses on stage due to (what we thought was) the sound effects playing up.
Overall, I did think it was an enjoyable and family friendly show. I do think it needs a bit more structure before becoming a full fledged production. If the producers do decide to take it the show further, I hope they continue to use PJ McEvoy’s incredible atmosphere creating projections.
Until next time,
Categories: On Stage
Hi there, I also saw this performance.
Possibly I’m influenced by being a lifelong fan of the book, but I think you’ve been very kind about the actual show here.
Without a doubt, the cast were brilliant. I agree entirely that Jasmine Sakyiama, in particular, was incredible and I hope she is destined for great things.
I honestly think that Abbington did an incredible job of polishing an absolute turd of a role. You’re right about her being a racist Miss Hannigan – that wasn’t a character she was playing, it was an incoherent mess of a bogeyman. None of her actions had any motivation behind them other than “what would be nasty for Sara right now?”. That she managed to engage with the audience and get laughter and applause speaks of a command of timing and intonation that verges on genius, since it certainly wasn’t the script getting a reaction.
The book was a bizarre mix of thoroughly researched and genuinely innovative reimagining of the source material, and apparently telling the children to improvise on a theme and not writing any of it down until they were exhausted and had run out of ideas.
Musically, it was formulaic almost to the point of parody. Not that being formulaic is necessarily a bad thing, of course. Formulae work, that’s why they exist. I’ve long thought of Andrew Lippa as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s natural successor, but did you notice that the start of the introduction to the song Timbuktu(halfway through the second act, showing in detail an event that happened halfway through the first act) was literally the beginning of the Starlight Sequence from Starlight Express? As in, the tune to which the words “Starlight Express” are sung. With the same orchestration. There’s derivative playing it safe, and then there’s that.
Generally speaking, I thought that the first three quarters or so could make for a pretty decent little original musical, and if they changed the title and some of the character names, no-one would be any the wiser.
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