“Everything She Wants” sings Sara Crewe’s father as he leaves her in Miss Minchin’s Boarding School. The Captain’s fortune will keep Sara in extreme comfort; she’ll indeed have everything she wants. Captain Crewe is going far away, back to India, where the two have lived for years. Crewe figures it’s time for Sara to get a proper education. It’s 1887, and in London the gulf between the rich and the poor is wide.
But Sara is oblivious to the delineation of the classes. She likes everyone; there’s not a pretentious bone in her body. Fellow students Lottie and Ermengarde, and scullery maid Becky are drawn to her because of this, while classmates Lavinia and Jessie, and even Miss Minchin herself, can’t fathom how one can be so kind when one doesn’t have to be. “She acts like she’s a little princess,” complains Lavinia, and Miss Minchin agrees. Then tragedy strikes and Sara is penniless. How will she behave to others now when she’s the one on the outside looking in? But once a princess, always a princess; Sara surprises everyone with her positive outlook despite her dire circumstances.
Mentored by Harwich Junior Theatre’s Betty Bobp in this theater’s early days, Susan Kosoff and Jane Staab moved on to co-found the Wheelock Family Theatre in Boston. “A Little Princess, Sara Crewe” is their musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel (Kosoff wrote the book and lyrics, and Staab composed the music). Under Staab’s direction and with their lovely songs, a stellar cast of young women and impressive adults bring this story to life in intricate detail on the Cape Cod Theatre Company, Home of Harwich Junior Theatre stage this December.
Honestly, Sara Crewe is a bit much. Can anyone really be that nice? But the charismatic Madison Mayer makes this character believable and likable. Her incredible portrayal inspires and delights; she’ll make everyone who attends this show want to be a better person. The key bakery scene in the second act brought me to tears. Here the actor impressively reveals the depth of Sara’s true essence as we witness a selfless act; here she indeed behaves like a princess. Mayer is on stage for most of the show and her performance never wavers from this core characteristic.
Casting Mayer is just one of many smart moves that can be attributed to Staab and the company’s artistic director Nina Schuessler. This nearly two-and-a-half-hour production is packed with great performances, and in the cast of 25 there’s not a single weak link. For instance, Ceci Cipullo as the maid Becky, Brittany Rolfe as Miss Minchin and Marcia Thornton Smith as Amelia Minchin each brought power and/or presence to their performances every time they were on stage. Sara’s fellow students stood out consistently with their exceptional portrayals as they sashayed around or chattered here and there in their Victorian-era costumes conceived by costume designer Karen Milkey. Haley Kelsey’s nasty Lavinia, Sage Barnes as Lavinia’s cohort Jessie, Scarlett O’Malley’s Lottie with her temper tantrum, Orla Delaney as the likable Ermengarde, along with Perry Gill (Gertrude), Lea Kilpatrick (Beatrice), Olivia Thompson (Rosalie), Lily Pierce (Victoria) and Audrey Smith (Elizabeth), were all noteworthy.
Steve Ross (Captain Crewe), Edward Donovan (Monsieur Dufarge), Fabienne Wilcox (Mariette, cook) and Rick Smith (Tom Carrisford) turn in exceptional performances that added another layer to the overall production. LeVane Harrington as the exotic Ram Dass is excellent; he displayed so much with just a gesture and few words. Sally Dworsky was entrancing as the Baker, and she can sing too. The Carmichael Family (Donovan, Rebecca Lach, Alice Murphy and Sage Lach), especially young Donald (Angelina Manchuk), handled their pivotal roles with panache. Jack Watts (Mr. Barrow) and Annalise Langelier (Anne) complete the talented ensemble. There are too many moments where one or two of this group standout during the show to mention.
Staab’s compositions are performed wonderfully by the orchestra (Kwon Faith, violin; Tony Stevens, clarinet; Cella Mariani, cello; and Zane Bender, percussion) under Robert Wilder’s direction (and on keyboard). They may be hidden from view, but their work is noticeable to all. James P. Bryne does it again as the set designer. The detailed set transforms easily from scene to scene. Bryne’s lighting, Kosoff’s set décor, Marybeth Travis’s props, J Hagenbuckle’s sound design, Laurel Conrad’s choreography and Matt Kohler’s technical direction all complete the package. Taking care of everything behind the scenes are some of the young people in this teaching theater: Thea Goldman, stage manager; Sophie Friend, assistant to the director; Shiloh Pabst, light board; and Rachel Simmons, crew.
“A Little Princess, Sara Crewe” is a delightful family outing for the holiday season; perhaps grandma or grandpa could take the kids to give mom and dad a chance to get all the holiday preparations done. It’s sure to be a sell out when the word gets out; get your tickets today!