By Rae Hunt
I’ve always been captivated by the story The Little Prince. From my early days, I remember listening to my father laugh over the depiction of the drawing of the “hat” (which was actually a snake that had eaten an elephant), to getting to know all the unique and odd people who inhabit all the various tiny asteroids that the Little Prince visits. Utah Symphony brings such a remarkable opportnity to see this story brought to life at the Capitol Theater in downtown Salt Lake. The Little Prince is told from the perspective of The Pilot. He has crashed into the African desert and is far from any sort of civilization or source of water. As he is stressing over his crashed plane, a boy appears seemingly out of nowhere. This boy introduces himself as The Little Prince and asks the pilot to draw him a sheep. He needs the sheep to help keep the baobabs from growing on his tiny planet. While this annoys The Pilot, he ends up drawing the boy a sheep in a crate to keep him happy. Over the course of eight days, while The Pilot is stuck in the desert with his plane, The Little Prince tells him of his home on a tiny planet with three volcanos and a Rose which he loves. He also tells of his adventures visiting other tiny asteroids and planets that have led him to Earth.
This story captures the innocence of youth, recognizing that what is important to adults isn’t always what is truly essential. That sometimes children see things like love, friendship, and that those lovely and vital aspects in one’s life can only be felt with the heart, not seen with the eyes. The Pilot is able to see what The Little Prince was trying to teach him only after his little friend has gone, teaching us not to wait until it is too late to appreciate the people that mean a lot to us.
Miles Keetan embodies The Little Prince as if the wonderful little boy had stepped right out of the book and onto the stage. He has an amazing boy soprano voice which is clear and easy to understand. This role has so much singing and so many scenes and Keetan delivers flawlessly. There is no hesitation in his performance and he carries himself with confidence. He draws people into this story.
Shea Owens as The Pilot narrates the story. He tells a group of school children about his encounter with The Little Prince. As he talks about the boy he met so long ago, you can feel how wistful he is. His voice conveys how much he misses his little friend and how much he longs to see The Little Prince again. Owens has a very rich voice that carries through the theater. The relationship between The Pilot and The Little Prince works very well, filled with tenderness and authenticy. I felt sad when the two had to part.
Christian Sanders has a very important role as The Snake. The Little Prince had met the snake earlier in his travels and became convinced that the snake could help him return home when he is ready. Sanders as the sneaky and conniving reptile displays his malevolence through his movement, slow and menacing and his slithery, cunning voice. Sanders also plays The Vain Man on one of the asteroids the prince visited. I particularly enjoyed Sanders as The Vain Man; this sequence in the opera is quite delightful and funny. Sanders has the perfect choreography to accompany the character.
Sarah Scofield plays The Fox and shines in my favorite role in the story. While The Fox is a wild creature, she almost begs The Little Prince to tame her and be her friend. This heartfelt exchange distinctively highlights the importance of building relationships and being true to your friends. Scofield connects with sincerity and mirth as she interactis with both The Little Prince and the audience. I love her voice and her playful performance is everything I had imagined from my childhood. Scofield also makes a secondary appearance as a Rose but not the one The Little Prince knows at home. She is graceful and poised as she dances with the other roses.
Julia Gershkoff plays another Rose in a group of them. In combination with Rodriguez, Scofield, and the choir, the dance of roses is beautiful and graceful. Gershkoff also has the role of The Water and her voice is quite lovely and calming. Her grace as the water ascends is exceptional.
Jasmine Rodriguez is The Rose. Before Earth, The Little Prince didn’t know any other roses and thought she was unique. She is the first friend to The Little Prince and while a bit vain, she is a true friend and encourages him to go out and visit other places. Rodriguez has a phenomenal voice, rich in tone and depth. You can easily tell that she cared for the prince but at the same time often thinks about herself and her own comfort. Rodriguez is able to convey these different attitudes throughout her appearance. She also joins in as one of the regular roses The Little Prince meets later. Each time she is onstage, I was convinced that she is indeed a Rose, with all its delicacy, charm, and beauty.
Jeremiah Tyson has several fun roles. As The Lamplighter, he teaches The Little Prince that sometimes work is never ending and often thankless. His song during this section of the story is one I truly enjoyed. On another planet, we meet the Drunkard who is drinking because he is ashamed. Why is he ashamed? Because he keeps drinking. While not implicit in the play, I found the message that if you aren’t willing to break a bad habit, then the cycle will keep repeating itself. Tyson’s performance of both of these individuals is well characterized, lending each a life of individuality and color.
Tshilidzi Ndou is very serious as The Businessman. He makes it clear that focusing too much on business and numbers isn’t a good thing. What a valuable lesson he teaches the audience.
Kevin Thompson is hilarious as The King. His tones and attitude are very imperial but he only makes decrees that he knows he can control. He won’t attempt to order the sun to set before it would naturally. Thompson has such a great regal tone and his behavior with The Little Prince conveys that he is meant to be admired and obeyed by all his subjects.
Ndou, Thompson, Tyson, and Sanders also play a group of Baobabs and Hunters. Each of these roles helps bring to life the adventures The Little Prince experienced. These four performers are outstanding as singers and actors.
The Madeleine Choir School is a group of young students who regularly collaborate with the Utah Opera. The choir’s performance in The Little Prince fills out the story with a sense of magical wonder. As the students run around the stage in games of hide and seek or patty cake, they illustrate the story the Pilot is telling them—and the fond memories of this feeling of nostalgia as I pondered my past self listening to this story. My favorite songs are those where they are waving flags or carrying candles representative of stars. I got shivers listening to their perfect harmonies. I could listen to them sing all day long.
Most spectacularly in this opera are the sets and lighting. With sets and costumes designed by Jacob Climer, The Little Prince takes on a life of its own. Books are gathered in wonderful piles all over the set. The initial scene is set in a library while the scenes with the Little Prince are covered in books and pages. The volcanoes are made out of books while the Pilot’s plane and the desert sand are made from pages. There are times when paper rains from the sky. The lighting, designed by Mark Staney, is exquisite and creates a special ambiance. I loved the stars that came and went and the water scene is truly magical. Kate Casalino’s makeup and wig design is exceptional, giving whimsy and a sense of unreal reality that left me enchanted. .
Director Tara Faircloth and Conductor Benjamin Manis lead the cast and orchestra into a journey filled with delight, caring, and brilliance. The Little Prince will be loved by adults and children alike. Utah Opera brings us a sweet and profound story with music, passion, dancing, and brilliance.
Utah Opera presents Portman & Wright’s The Little Prince.
Capitol Theatre, 50 W 200 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Jan 20 – Jan 28, 2024, Show times vary, see site for individual performance details.
Tickets: $24.50 – $106 based on seating
Utah Opera Facebook Page
The Little Prince video
Miles Keeton sharing his thoughts about The Little Prince