In the show conceived, directed and co-written by David Zippel, spoiled rich girls at an American boarding school are staging a musical version of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, "A Little Princess."
The answer to the question, "What makes a princess?," is PG-rated, to be sure, when the modern girls of The Reardon School in upstate New York learn that a Hollywood superstar named Kevin Finch, father to a student, Miranda, is going to direct the show. Expect more hormonal sparks when a hunky young Hollywood star named Zachary (played by newcomer Storm Newton) arrives on campus.
Brent Barrett (Chicago) plays Kevin, Jenny Fellner (Mamma Mia!) is daughter Miranda and Donna English (a Goodspeed Musicals veteran and star of Ruthless Off-Broadway) plays the schoolteacher, Ms. Nibbey, passionate about staging the classic novel for girls.
The early 20th-century book's roots are in "Sara Crewe, or What Happened at Miss Minchin's" (1888), later revised by the author as "A Little Princess.
Previews began at 5th Avenue Theatre Aug. 9 with collaborators Zippel (lyrics), Matthew Wilder (music) and Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (book) in residence to work and refine, learning from the audience. Tony Award-winner Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie) is choreographing. Zippel is the Tony Award-winning lyricist known for City of Angels, The Goodbye Girl, London and Broadway's The Woman in White, and the film "Mulan" (he and pop writer Matthew Wilder were Academy Award-nominated for a song from the Disney picture). The married Steinkellners are known for their work on "Cheers." Zippel told Playbill.com Aug. 16 the short preview process is a classic tryout scenario in which trims, new material and changes can be tested. The musical has been announced for Broadway for 2005-06, with Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley helming as commercial producers. A theatre has yet to be named, but if reviews are encouraging and a venue opens up, expect a swift announcement.
"The audience response has been great," Zippel said. "It's easier to work when you feel like you're connecting. We've only had a week of previews, so we're keeping our heads down and working — cuts, rewrites, we've restaged a couple parts of numbers…"
The gaggle of boarding school girls who go gaga over the movie stars includes Sierra Boggess, Celina Carvajal, Mary Faber, Sarah Jayne Jensen, Anne Letscher, Courtney Laine Mazza, Moeisha McGill, Lindsay Mendez, Patti Murin, Anisha Nagarajan, Marissa Perry, Jacqui Polk, Sarah Spradlin and Kelly Stensland.
Performances play 5th Avenue Theatre through Aug. 28. Produced by The 5th Avenue Theatre by special arrangement with Lane and Comley, the new musical-within-a-musical played a developmental run at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in fall 2004.
5th Avenue producing artistic director David Armstrong told Playbill.com, "I was one of the first people that David Zippel shared the idea with almost five years ago. I have always thought this contemporary adaptation was a unique and exciting way of presenting the material. Now that I've seen it on The 5th Avenue stage I know it to be true."
He continued, "We have found throughout the preview process that Princesses appeals to the youngest as well as the oldest audience members. There are very few shows out there that can pull that off."
Here's how 5th Avenue characterizes Princesses: "In this sensational new musical comedy, a clique of jaded private school girls reluctantly stage a production of the beloved Victorian novel 'A Little Princess.' The show is a disaster until America's hottest action hero arrives on the scene to direct it. The boy-crazy teens are wild for him, except for one — his daughter. Will she finally have her father back, or will he rush off to Hollywood when he gets a better offer? The fresh, hip score blends contemporary pop and traditional theatre tunes in this innovative musical-within-a-musical, developed by a multi-award-winning and nominated (Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy) creative team."
Newcomer Storm Newton, an actor-singer with the sort of name to set the hearts of teenage girls aflutter, is not known to theatre fans — or many others in showbiz. In fact, he didn't show up in a Google internet search (as of May), although readers of Cosmopolitan got a chance to goggle over his shirtless photo in March, when he was featured in the magazine's monthly photo series "Guy Without His Shirt 2005."
The vital stats provided in the "Guy Candy" section of www.cosmopolitan.com indicate that Newton is 22 years old, six feet tall, 170 pounds, a "Leo" and a native of Bellevue, MI.
His "favorite thing," Cosmo reports, is music. "It's in my soul," he told Cosmo. "I'm an R&B singer, and I just started recording my first album."
For ticket information, call Ticketmaster at (206) 292-ARTS (2787), visit ticketmaster.com, the 5th Avenue Theatre box office, 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. There is no service charge when purchasing tickets in person at The 5th Avenue Theatre box office.
Is Princesses appropriate for children? Visit the "Parental guidelines" section of the 5th Avenue website so you can make an informed decision.
As of the opening in Seattle, the show's musical numbers include "Madrigal," "Saved by the Bell," "Missing," "Music Appreciation," "The Sexiest Man Alive"/"Quality Time," "Wrong," "Butterflies," "By Heart," "Acting 101," "A Little Princess Montage," "Go There," "Music Box Waltz," "Just Say Yes," "I Don't Need You," "Magic Time," "What a Drag," "The Best Revenge," "I Will Never Leave You."