The Princess and the Pea – Valley Youth Theatre, Phoenix

 

After a successful 2013/14 opener on the larger Herberger arena with its musical production of Suessical, Valley Youth Theatre continues its season back across town in its own, smaller location on North First Street with the delightful comedy The Princess and the Pea.

The story is the traditional telling of the prince who wants to marry a princess but has trouble finding a suitable suitor.  When one literally turns up on the castle doorstep, the young woman is given the most unusual of tests in order for the royal family to determine whether the woman is a real princess or not.

The famous fairy tale is split into two halves.  The first half has the prince (Austin McMains) and his faithful and occasionally over enthusiastic servant, Donald Dunce (Sam Primack) take to the road in order to find a princess to marry.  The second half brings us back to the castle and deals exclusively with the infamous test.  Together, the show lasts just over an hour, plus intermission.

Director Lauren Antioco makes great use of both the theatre and the auditorium by having her characters leave the stage and walk around the aisles, mixing among the audience.  The prince and his servant walk from one end of the kingdom to another via the whole house, talking as they journey and engaging everyone around them, making us all feel as though we’re part of the show without having to actually perform.

 

As written by Michele L. Vacca, the first half is the strongest simply because of the variety of events.  During his search for the right princess the prince meets four potential young women, each with their own peculiar characteristics.  It’s like walking in on four music hall acts, each one possessing a self-contained bit of business that had the audience both laughing and applauding as every skit concluded.  Princess Minerva (Maddie Wilmink) is the intellectual, bookworm with a vocabulary in need of its own translation.  She’s smart, I can tell,” states the servant.  I couldn’t understand a word she said.”

Then there’s Princess Beaulah, the beautiful one (Susan Saad) who spends all day looking at herself in the mirror; Princess Diana (Sophie Drapeau) whose hobbies include dancing and giggling, and not in that order; and finally Princess Stella (Claire Goux) who has a grand time hamming it up as the strong princess with the slightly Goth appearance who enjoys lifting weights and announcing her entrance from across the auditorium with the Tarzan yell.

 

Back at the castle there’s Esmeralda (Jaycee Levin) who enjoys the drama of making her entrance in smoke and red lights and speaking in an amusing mock Italian accent; Old Queen Maude (Rebecca Caswell) who has great fun pretending to be old and maintaining an old lady voice throughout, King Maximillian (Connor Baker) who wants what’s only the best for his son, and the two guests who turn up uninvited on the castle doorsteps, young Lady Hildegarde (Katy Sprowls) and Princess Olivia (Baily Shultz) who we know will eventually win everyone hearts because she wins ours the moment she makes her entrance.

But the spotlight can’t help but shine this time around on the comic turn delivered by Sam Primack as the faithful servant.  There’s a natural comedic quality to Sam that’s fun to watch not only because he injects a sense of life into every moment he’s on stage but also because of his continual, upbeat manner – he appears delighted just to be there.

 

One thing that has to be said, not only for this production but for the VYT in general: Stories based on nursery rhymes or fairy tales were always a part of our culture, handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, but our culture and means of entertainment have changed radically in recent years to the point where a whole generation or two now finds its information and entertainment through more electronic means.  The result is that stories like The Princess and the Pea are fast becoming unknown.  What a great service, then, that the VYT even exists. 

The theatre not only aspires to entertain on a professional level and act as a spring board for young valley talent whose interest in theatre is more than simply a way of passing spare time, but it keeps these fairy tales alive, season after season.  Without theatres like VYT, stories that enchant like The Princess and the Pea would all but disappear.  For that reason alone, the theatre needs our support.  Plus, it helps that the standard of productions like this one are so continually high. 

For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the VYT website.

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