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BOSTON — The coming together of the Strand Theatre and the Fiddlehead Theatre Company is a wedding made if not in heaven then in the boardroom of the better angels of the Menino administration. At least that’s the impression I walked away with after seeing “A Little Princess,” the company’s first production as the resident theater company of the Strand.
There is a strong sense of multiracial casting as well as outreach to the Dorchester community in particular and the larger Boston theater scene in general. (The prices are $25-$45, for one thing.) Theater venues like the Strand can transform a neighborhood — look at what the revitalization of three theaters has done to lower Washington street — particularly when the theater becomes a part of the community, as the Strand strives to do.
Saying the right things and even putting them into practice are one thing, producing a brand of theater that can be transformative and have people coming back for more is another. And that’s the larger accomplishment of what artistic director Meg Fofonoff has done with the musical production of Andrew Lippa’s and Brian Crawley’s adaptation of the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett turn of the century story about a girl who has to make her way in a Dickensian school for girls while her father is off serving Queen Victoria.
The first joyful number immediately flashes back to her life in Africa. She's dancing up a storm with the native population, barefoot and fancy free in bright and beautiful garb, contrasting with the drab English colors of her new home. There’s obviously some African exoticism that’s not so post-colonially correct, but let’s not overthink this. The larger point is the need for passion, romance and even magic in a turned-down world and the ability of people of all colors to work together.
Sounds Kumbaya, I know, but Fofonoff pulls it off. The casting is very savvy, drawing upon a mostly local, very talented cast for the large ensemble. The spirited production, which she directs, also features terrific choreography by Matt Romero, particularly in the numbers that incorporate African dancing, with a few hip-hop moves thrown in.
Fofonoff obviously puts a priority on the cast, crew and musicians (13, no less), as there isn’t much in the way of set design. That’s a problem in that the music (Lippa), lyrics and story (Crawley) are pretty generic. All of the songs are good, none is great, and only one brings down the house, so it would help to have more to look at when the mind starts to wander. Also, as “magic” is part of the story I wish there were more enchantment in the stagecraft.
You wouldn’t want it to come at the expense of putting together such a fine cast and band (under Balint Varga), though. Sirena Abalian as Sara (aka Little Princess) is a triple-threat actress-singer-dancer, as is most everyone in the cast. That bringer-down-of-the-house is Bridget Beirne, a longtime local favorite before leaving for the greener pastures of New York. She belts out a phenomenal “Once Upon a Time” as Miss Amelia, the good sister of Sara’s London school.
Ultimately, I think “A Little Princess” is intended for audiences with young’uns attached. If such a little princess, or prince, is attached to you, then Fiddlehead and the Strand are playing your song.
This program aired on November 26, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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