The last time that I was sitting in the audience of a children’s musical was, well, when I was a child. It was a fifth grade field trip to a Broadway production of A Christmas Carol. It must have been good because I still remember it well, and I continue to this day to see as many plays and performances as possible.
One of the many perks of my job has to be the invites I receive to the area’s latest shows and events. They’re opportunities I rarely pass up and it’s how I ended up in the audience of Pennsylvania Youth Theater’s production of The Little Prince last Friday. I thought it would be a welcome chance to escape the stresses of adulthood if only for two hours and savor the simplicity of a show for kids. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Little Prince, the story (and I don’t want to give too much away here) is about a weary aviator who crashes his plane in the Sahara Desert and gets stranded. It’s here that he meets a little prince who encourages the aviator to reignite his passion for drawing by sketching the prince’s every desire. Through a series of fantastical events the aviator learns to laugh and love again, opening his eyes to the beauty in the world. Deep, complex themes for a children’s show and that’s what I didn’t expect.
The cast was made up of 56 PYT actors and two adults who all lit up the stage with their songs. My 8-year-old niece, Sophia could not stop humming along from the first song to the last and it was fun to see her listen intently to try and follow the words. The heavy themes of love and loss were also the reason why her mother could not stop crying from the first song to the last. It really was something to see all these kids (who ranged in age from about six to 14) come together and put on a flawless show that you know was the result of months of practice.
During intermission I met the mother of two PYT actors, Dawson and Dallas. Dawson played the little prince (a role shared by about a dozen boys and girls) and Dallas played several background roles. She could not say enough good things about PYT and the impact it has had on her children. Their father has been battling cancer for the last decade and PYT has offered an incredible outlet for these talented kids who really don’t remember a time when their dad wasn’t sick. Again, not what I expected to encounter that night!
Thinking back to when I was a wee theater go-er, I never could have imagined mustering up the courage to get up on stage and perform. The lessons these actors are learning so early on have to be ones that will stick with them for a lifetime. By the end, Sophia was practically begging to join PYT and I know that I was bearing witness to the spark igniting in a future actress.