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Review: ‘The Light Princess’ Charms With Musical Energy

This local production, in its world premiere at the Arden Theatre Co., runs through June 4.

Don’t be fooled by its title: The Light Princess does plenty of heavy lifting. Adapted from George MacDonald’s book of the same name, Tony Lawton’s delightful musical, with music composed by Alex Bechtel, engages themes of love, betrayal, bewitchment, and heroism. The show packs musical energy and plenty of laughs in its world premiere run at the Arden Theatre Co.


Kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy watching this tale of a Princess (Brett Robinson) hexed by her grumpy aunt, Witch (Bechtel). Not content to isolate Princess in a tower, or make her a toad-face, etc., the Witch curses Princess by loosing her from gravity; among other indignities, Princess must tug around large rocks to avoid flying away. And her lack of gravity isn’t just physical — she takes everything too lightly, seriously irritating her parents, King (Rob Tucker) and Queen (Emily Gardner Xu Hall), and sinking her chances of finding a prince.


When Prince (also Bechtel) finds her, Princess and the story fly off in unexpected directions, ultimately grounding Princess and teaching some classic lessons about love and loyalty in the process.


The score is wonderful and engaging. Bechtel’s music covers a wide expanse from folk to ethereal tonal stretches to straight-up piano-anchored rock. Bechtel shines especially brightly in belting out his bass-heavy numbers as Witch. The composer and his character marry comic flair and singalong devilishness, and you can’t help but smile and clap even as the evil Witch gleefully sings her malevolent threat-song, “I’ll Teach You to Be Happy.”


The cast does a remarkable amount with just five members. Playwright Lawton plays MacDonald, the narrator, as well as several bit characters, and comic moments abound. The set is spare but fun, punching above its weight with a piano, one other piece of heavy furniture, and intelligent use of on-stage accents — such as a framed picture of a castle suspended in mid-stage to indicate that we’re now in the royal home, and an empty frame in the same spot serving as a window in another scene.


The show has two acts, with a brief but sufficient intermission sandwiched between, and though it’s nearly two hours long neither I nor my 7-year-old son were ever bored. When it was all over, we wanted more. As with other Arden children’s productions, the cast stuck around for a few audience questions and then greeted the patrons in the lobby.


The Light Princess is now in previews; opening night is April 14, and the show runs through June 4 at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia. Click here to learn more and buy tickets. 


Photograph by Mark Gavin, courtesy of the Arden Theatre Co. 



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