BENTON — The stage at The Royal Theatre will come alive with colorful costumes, singing and dancing Thursday, when the Royal Players open their next production, A Little Princess. Curtain time is 7 p.m.
Written by Tony-nominated composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa and Brian Crawley, A Little Princess is based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which has been denoted by the School Library Journal as one of the Top 100 Chapter Books of all time. The book tells the story of young Sara Crewe, who grew up in Africa but was sent to a boarding school in London. The setting swings between Victorian England and Timbuktu.
When things go badly for Sara at the boarding school, she uses her imagination to transform a drab institution into a place of magic and mystery. As Sara wins the affection of the other boarders, she draws the ire of Miss Minchin, the school’s headmistress, who forces Sara to work as a maid when her father is reported dead and his fortune is seized. Sara counters all of Miss Minchin’s best efforts to degrade her, all the while maintaining the grace and virtue of a little princess.
“This is a large cast … mostly kiddos, with a few adult roles,” said Teri Lanier of Bryant, who is making her debut as a solo producer with this production.
“I co-produced the Young Players Center Stage production of The Lion King Jr. with Melissa Glover,” Lanier said.
“This has been a fun opportunity for the cast. There is some African language in the play, and certain actors had to learn how to pronounce several phrases. There was a CD that we ordered that helped them with the pronunciation. There is also lots of singing and dancing,” she said.
“The show is in two acts,” said Lanier, who is an independent contractor in property management and does not have a background in theater, although her daughter has been in productions at The Royal in the past.
“There are really no scenes in the show,” Lanier said. “It just follows the music. Sara is actually at the boarding school in London, but she tells the story through flashbacks and dreams that take the audience to Africa.”
Abby Curry of Little Rock is making her directorial debut at The Royal Theatre. Curry, a daughter of Jeff and Deborah Root of Arkadelphia, is a graduate of Arkadelphia High School and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater and speech communications from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia in 2017. She teaches theater and oral communication at Benton High School. Her husband, Stephen Curry, is the choir director at Little Rock Christian Academy and will be featured in the band in A Little Princess.
“I had heard of this play. … I knew it in the book format. I think more people are familiar with the book than the show,” Abby Curry said.
“It’s a good story for kids. It is very melodramatic, although there is no bad language or adult situations. A lot happens along the way. It’s also sad,” she said.
“It’s set in the time of the industrial revolution in England when there were no child labor laws, so the young girls were made to work,” Curry said.
“In this show, Sara is 12 and turns 13 as the show progresses,” she said. “The girls at the boarding school range in age from 9 to 15. There are rich girls, and then there are servant girls who wait on them. The rich girls have been told not to talk to the servant girls.
“This is really a story about coming of age … about not judging your peers … about making friends. It’s a show that’s good for the family. The audience will recognize some of the songs … ‘Live Out Loud,’ ‘Soldier On’ and ‘Timbuktu.’”
Dawne Carroll of North Little Rock is the musical director for A Little Princess; she will also play the piano in the band.
The cast includes the following:
• Katharine Crowe of Benton portrays Sara Crewe.
• Matthew Burns of Benton plays Captain Crewe, Sara’s father.
• Gio Hiblong of Benton appears as Pasko, Aljana’s son and also Sara’s best friend in Africa.
• Michelle Young Hobbs of Little Rock portrays Aljana, Sara’s African-American nanny and mentor during her childhood. Hobbs also plays the Widow Zuma.
• Kaleigh Statton of Benton and Shelby Loftis of Little Rock each play the servant girl Becky in different shows. Becky is an orphan and scullery maid working at the boarding school where Sara lives and becomes Sara’s best friend at the school, but is picked on by the other girls.
• Sarah Heer of Benton appears as Miss Minchin, head of the girls school.
• Katrina Lilly of Bauxite appears as Miss Amelia, Miss Minchin’s younger, kinder sister and a teacher at the school.
• Hayden Griffis of Bauxite portrays James, a worker at the boarding school.
• Skyla Conge of Haskell plays Queen Victoria.
• Gabe Yates of Bauxite appears as Mr. Skipwith, the London barrister for Captain Crewe’s estate.
Appearing as girls who live in the boarding house are Hannah Brooks of Little Rock as Nora; Kathryn Morris of Little Rock as Ermengarde; Reagan McCartney of Little Rock as Lavinia; Jenna Thaxton of Hot Springs as Jessie; Sydney Crary of Little Rock as Jane; and Olivia Kreulen of Benton as Lottie.
Portraying characters from Sara’s African past that she recalls in her dreams and stories are Bella Crowe of Benton, who plays the headman; Nate Palmer of Little Rock, the umbrella man; Jamie Babb Partain of Benton, a native woman; and Nick Bell of Benton, the sultan.
Members of the ensemble include Sarah Nuss of Bauxite; Nathan Clay, Paul Johnston, Emory Statton, Lauren Bond, Rylee Woodard, Frankie Goldman, Allie Bailey, Hillary Arnold and Cadence Earles, all of Benton; Noah Lee of Haskell; Chloe Alexander of Hot Springs; and Melissa Hutchinson of Little Rock.
Additional show times for A Little Princess are 7 p.m. Friday and Dec. 1, 6 and 8; and 2 p.m. Dec. 2, 8 and 9.
General-admission tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for senior citizens, military personnel and college students; and $6 for high school students and younger.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.theroyalplayers.com or www.ticketleap.com.
For reservations, call (501) 315-5483. Tickets may also be purchased at the door on a first-come, first-served basis. The Royal Theatre is at 111 S. Market St. in Benton.
A Little Princess is sponsored locally by the Jeff Mattingly Foundation and First Security Bank. The musical is presented through special arrangements with Music Theatre International of New York City.