Nicholas Lloyd-Webber's The Little Prince
The crown prince of the Lloyd-Webber musical dynasty adapts Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book for the Lyric
‘So, what does your father think of it?’
It is a question that Nicholas Lloyd-Webber, one of the creators behind the upcoming production of The Little Prince musical at the Lyric Theatre, must be sick of. But it has to be asked, since his father is that elder statesman of musical theatre, Andrew Lloyd-Webber.
Luckily, Lloyd-Webber takes the question with good grace and a grin. ‘I think he likes it, but he hasn’t really been involved,’ he says.
In fact, it was only recently that Lloyd-Webber and his co-writer, James D Reid, even asked the elder Lloyd-Webber’s opinion. ‘I told him, “Don’t be my Dad”. He came back with some really good points – some of which we agreed with, some we didn’t – and I think he really liked it.’
The junior composer admits that his first venture into musical theatre is, perhaps, less ambitious than anything his father has produced.
Rather than choosing a glitzy spectacular, such as Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat oe Oliver, Lloyd-Webber settled on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's whimsical tale of a prince, an aviator, three volcanoes and a rose. He blames his co-writer, Reid, for the choice. ‘He just chucked the book at me one day!’
Reid looks amused and elaborates that they had been looking for a children’s book to adapt into a musical. Originally they considered Roald Dahl’s back-catalogue. But while no-one can pick fault with the idea of a musical version of The Twits, nothing there quite caught their imagination. ‘Then I remembered The Little Prince,’ Reid explains.
Over 60 years after it was first published, The Little Prince remains one of the best-known and best-loved children’s books in the world, and still sells over a million copies a year. It may not be as popular in the UK as it is in France or the USA, but it is still a childhood touchstone. Even people who haven’t read it, could probably come up with at least an outline of the story.
Obviously, popularity means bums on seats in the theatre, but surely it must have been daunting to take on a book this beloved?
Lloyd-Webber and Reid glance at each other to see who wants to go first. ‘You have to be careful,’ Reid admits, leaning forwards in his chair. ‘On the one hand you can be too reverentional, on the other you could not be reverential enough.’
‘It’s a curse and a blessing,’ Lloyd-Webber agrees. ‘We felt like we had to be absolutely true to the spirit of the book, yet at the same time do something for the theatre and for us as writers as well.’
The cast feel the pressure to live up to Antoine’s legacy too. Niamh Perry, who plays the eponymous – and gender-neutral – Little Prince, and was the runner-up in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s reality TV talent-show Any Dream Will Do, has been involved in the production nearly as long as Lloyd-Webber and Reid.
‘Niamh came on board pretty much straight away,’ Lloyd-Webber says. ‘She has been in every other day since we started out.’
Perry hadn’t previously read The Little Prince, despite it being her sister’s favourite book, and consciously avoided reading it until well into the production. She wanted to make sure she had a good grasp of what they were doing with the play and what she was doing with her role in particular.
Now that she has cracked open her copy of the book, she hasn’t been able to put it down. The pages have been dog-eared, the text high-lighted and annotated. It is, she says, a book that you need to read more than once.
‘There’s a lot of big ideas going on in the book,’ Lloyd-Webber agrees. Too many to do justice to in the span of a theatre performance, so he and Reid simplified the plot by taking two or three of the main ideas and focusing on them. There are hints at the elements they had to leave out, but ‘you don’t have to have read the book to enjoy the show’.
The show itself features no dialogue at all, as is made up of a solid hour and three quarters of music sourced from a variety of genres and periods. Still, surely the fox will still be there? The rose? The King? (Although you can understand them leaving out the dipsomaniac on account of him being not wholly child-friendly.)
Lloyd-Webber and Co aren’t giving any of those details away just yet. Fans – and Andrew Lloyd-Webber himself – will just have to wait until the show opens at the Lyric. 'It will be something new for both of us,' Lloyd-Webber says, referring to his father. Then he adds, 'For all of us.'
The Little Prince runs at The Lyric December 1 to January 15.