by Regina Ford
He may not be as well-known as the Brothers Grimm, but the 19th-century Scottish author George MacDonald wrote his share of whimsical fairy tales. One of his most popular yet particularly peculiar tales was adapted into a musical by Mike Pettry (music and lyrics) and Lila Rose Kaplan (book) and is now running at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre through February 23, the first full musical production at the theatre.
The Light Princess is not your typical happy-ever-after fairy tale. As director Michelle Milne says in her Director’s Notes, “It’s messy.”
Prior to curtain, actors interact with the audience, challenging children and adults alike to play with hula hoops and to participate in The Light Princess guessing game. We are all made to feel as though we are part of the cast.
The Light Princess is a theatrical journey of twists and turns for the family. The King and Queen (David Gunther and Gretchen Wirges) are desperate to have a baby. A birth is impossible because of a curse placed on the royal couple by the queen’s wicked witch of a sister (Julia Balestracci). Finally bargaining with the witch for a baby, a royal princess is born but with a curse attached. The catch: the princess (Grace Otto) is born without any gravity. Not only will she remain weightless, the Light Princess is unable to cry or experience emotions like sadness, fear, and love. The storyline twists further. If after 16 years the young princess is unable to experience any emotions, she will remain floating for the rest of her life (and the wicked witch will get to marry the king). When the Light Princess meets a handsome failed lyricist and iffy guitar-playing prince (Aubrey King), her heart begins to suddenly flutter.
The show’s quick pace begins with a flurry of movement and activity (acrobatics captain Olivia Rivera) and the Light Princess’s magical world comes to life with the help of Wise One #1 (Katie Burke) and Wise One #2 (Nicole DelPrete) who fill in the scenes with witty, often cornball patter and antics, much to the delight of the kids in the front row — and their parents, too. Horn tooting and clever choreography go a long way with this sometimes playfully disruptive duo.
The princess herself is wild, energetic, curious, and fiercely independent; she only feels freedom when she swims in a nearby lake, the water keeping her buoyant yet grounded. The king and queen want nothing but happiness and a “normal” life for their daughter, that is, what they consider normal: being happily married to a prince. They also fear the consequences of breaking the curse.
Strong women’s roles prevail. It’s the queen who stands up to adversity and fights for her daughter’s freedom of choice as wealthy and mighty husband prospects such as the Man of Stone (Danny Fapp), Man of Silver (Carlos Omar Venegas), and the Man of Black Diamond (Adrian Encinas) fail to impress the princess.
The Light Princess is the unconventional tale of two people looking for happiness in their own personal ways. The prince is not interested in marrying a princess and the princess wishes to make her own life, avoiding the traditional princess-like role on her journey. The prince and princess learn from each other. It’s the princess, determined to make her own destiny, who takes control and leads the way, teaching the prince about remaining true to himself while still embracing happiness with one another.
The ingenious touch of wireless floating is created by actors dressed in black who lift the princess into the air and whisk her effortlessly across the stage, where she perches on a distressed turquoise wooden tower (set design by Bryan Rafael Falcón) and where she appears to float over the kingdom below. Otto gave the illusion of weightlessness, delicately moving her arms and legs like a ballet dancer floating in the sky. The actors carrying the princess seem to disappear before our eyes. But for their facial expressions, usually laughing and mimicking the princess’s facial expressions, these actors just magically blend into the background.
To create the lake in which the prince and princess swim, black-garbed actors playing Elementals (Danny Quinones and Olivia Rivera) make waves with silk-like sheer blue fabric as the prince and princess appear to swim through the water. This clever effect, along with Raulie Martinez’s lighting and Wolfe Bowart’s property design, makes for an enchanting three-dimensional lake. The simplicity of the scenery and the clever use of eclectic props (like a flying bird and google-eyed binoculars) add to the magic.
The Light Princess is 80 minutes of musical and magical mayhem with humorous dialogue and a witty score, all brought to life by the talented Lisa Otey on piano. A unique fairy tale that embraces individuality, as well as the challenge of rising above what others say you should do, awaits you at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, 738 North 5th Ave., Tucson now through February 23rd. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, over the phone at 448-3300, or in person at the box office beginning one hour before the show.