A Little Princess: Southbank Centre, London
Reviewed 28th May 2018
This was the UK premiere of the musical adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel. With an all-star cast including Amanda Abbington (Sherlock), Danny Mac (Sunset Boulevard), Alexia Khandime (Wicked), Adam J. Bernard (Dreamgirls), Rebecca Trehearn (Showboat) accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra this one night only performance was excellent.
With the book and lyrics written by Brian Crawley, Tony nominated composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa writing the music and this UK version of the show being directed by Arlene Phillips CBE; it certainly had a superb creative team on board as this semi-staged performance showed.
The story focuses on Sara Crewe who is sent from Africa to a boarding school in London. Here, she must rely on her imagination and friends to overcome the strict headmistress Miss Minchin and prove that anyone can be a princess. For the first time in the shows history children have been cast in the leading roles as Sara, Becky and the other girls at the boarding school. This performance also utilised an adult and children’s choir.
Jasmine Sakyiama, who played Sara Crewe, is a marvel. She performs just as well as any of the older and more experienced actors on stage with her. Her commitment to the character was shown throughout the show by her wonderful expressions, command of the stage, energy and powerful vocals. For someone so young she certainly has tonnes of talent – definitely a future star of the stage in the making. Jasmine Nituan, who played Becky, was also fantastic as the Sara’s best friend and maid. Again, Jasmine remained in character throughout and her performance would rival many currently on stage despite her young age. Kate Woodman also stood out for her snooty, prim and proper characterisation of bully Lavinia. All of the young girls in the cast were extremely talented and ones to watch out for in the future.
This production marked Amanda Abbington’s first venture into professional musical theatre. She was fantastic as the strict, mean Miss Minchin. Her acting was terrific and her cruel manner and acting through song certainly made up for her slight lack in vocal strength and experience. Rebecca Trehearn, who played Miss Minchin’s belittled sister Miss Amelia, provided lots of comic moments. As always, Rebecca’s voice was beautiful, it was just a shame that she only got one song to really show it off. The same could be said for Adam J Bernard, who despite only having one longer feature song was able to blow the roof off the theatre with his vocal talent.
The story itself is charming. It flows easily and moves along at a good pace, making this a perfect show to take children to. It would easily work as a touring production therefore allowing more families to attend. This was a semi-staged performance of the show and therefore the choreography was limited. However what choreography there was felt in keeping with the piece and could easily be developed to make a full scale production. The costumes were well made and helped to set the scene, as did the clever animation to provide the backdrop.
The Southbank Centre has fantastic acoustics so the chance to see the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra perform was brilliant. It is a shame that not all shows can have such a fantastic live orchestra to accompany them. With Andrew Lippa himself conducting, the use of the orchestra and the two additional choirs added to the occasion. It was a shame however, that the two choirs were not involved that much – the youth choir in particular only sang in a few songs. Despite a few technical sound issues the songs by Andrew Lippa were catchy and fresh. Repetitive enough to make you remember them but not to get bored. The lyrics by Brian Crawley really helped tell the story and show the characters emotions.
Overall this was a fantastic production of a charming story. The pace and flow of the show means that it would be a perfect show for families. I certainly hope to see this production being developed further and perhaps even having the chance to tour the UK. The talent on stage was superb. Definitely keep your eyes out for the young cast members of this show – with the right drive and passion these young girls will go far!
Photo Credit: Michael Warley