by Zachary Moull
"One sees clearly only with the heart," Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his cherished book The Little Prince. His eloquent tale about the power of love and creativity is coming to Theatre Calgary in a spectacular world premiere musical by Nicholas Lloyd Webber and James D. Reid.
When a pilot crashes his plane in the middle of the desert, he meets a young prince from a distant asteroid whose strange tale holds the key to his survival. "It's a spellbinding and captivating story," says Lloyd Webber, "moving through space and time with an array of weird and wonderful characters.”
Theatre Calgary’s artistic director Dennis Garnhum fell instantly in love with the new musical three years ago while listening to a demo recording on a flight back to Calgary from London, where he had met Lloyd Webber (son of the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber) at a social event. “It’s everything you hope a musical will be,” Garnhum says. “It has beautiful melodies, it’s very uplifting and joyous, and at the same time there are breathtaking ballads.”
Told through the eyes of the lost pilot who has forgotten his childhood talent for drawing, The Little Prince – The Musical celebrates the rekindling of the imagination. “I love that The Little Prince dares to say that we live in a world of imagination and creativity,” says Garnhum, who is directing the production. “I think that’s a beautiful and radical statement and an important reminder in our world, where we are so often focused on the bottom line and the practicalities of life.”
In the months leading up to the January premiere, Theatre Calgary has brought the creative spirit beyond its walls, curating a pop-up creativity project and partnering with Calgary Public Library to hold readings of The Little Prince across the city. Meanwhile, the production's design team and the theatre’s in-house builders have been working hard to meet bold expectations, with Garnhum asking for nothing less than "an explosion of imagination.”
"When a director gives you a gift like that," says set and costume designer Bretta Gerecke, "you have a responsibility to run with it." The resident designer for Edmonton's award-winning Catalyst Theatre, Gerecke is known for her extraordinary imagination – her designs call for tinfoil and bubble wrap as often as lumber and fabric, converting everyday elements into fantastical creations onstage. "The transformation," she says," is part of the magic."
Saint-Exupéry, who was a pilot himself, filled his original book with evocative illustrations of his characters and the marvellous worlds they inhabit. His clean-lined drawing style, Gerecke says, "allows you to fill in the blanks with your imagination." Gerecke hopes that her stage world for The Little Prince – The Musical will spark creative thinking in much the same way. "My job as a designer," she says, "is to help the audience go to places that they may have never imagined before. When I go to the theatre myself, I want to be transported."