The Mask of the Dancing Princess is an original children’s musical adapted from the book of the same name by Judith Gwyn Brown. In it Princess Rosamond (Alanna Wilson), the spoiled daughter of the King of Valleria, doesn't appreciate anything her father gives her, and acts like a royal brat.
When a band of Gypsy mummers performs at the castle, it turns out that one of the Gypsy girls (Allison Regnault) is a dead ringer for Rosamond. No Prince and the Pauper mix-ups occur, but rather Rosamond finds herself kidnapped by Gypsies, and is forced to learn the gypsy dances, thereby becoming (you guessed it!) a dancing princess. Musical fun ensues, as does a villainous scheme, and a romantic subplot.
One of the unique features in ...Princess is the use of shadow puppets as narrators in certain parts of the play. Used in a pseudo-Indonesian style, the two-dimensional puppets were held up behind a screen, and their shadows were projected onto the screen for the audience. This is a rarely used medium in the Western world, and Vital deserved kudos for employing it. Unfortunately the shadow puppets stopped showing up around halfway through the show, and the narrative was then conveyed in a more conventional manner.
Although palatable to grown-ups, ...The Dancing Princess is still for the kiddies. There are a handful of self-referential gags thrown in to amuse the parents, but not enough to call it fun for the whole family. Kids, of course, completely fall for the slapstick gags, hammy acting, and predictable plot, and that’s what counts. There are even a number of scenes where the audience gets to play along, including a chance to jump up onstage and dance to the "Gypsy Beat."
There are some dramaturgical issues at hand in John Gregor’s book. Nothing a six-year-old would complain about, but it does take over half the play before the villain announces his plot to usurp the throne of Valleria by killing Princess Rosamond. The ending, in which said villain is thwarted, can best be described in the words of the book writer himself, "Well that was anticlimactic." But, of course, the show needs a happy ending, and a musical finale, so all can be forgiven.
Lyrics (by Nancy Leeds) are clever and funny, though frequently a bit simplistic, but how else will a six-year-old learn to dance along to the Gypsy beat? John Gregor also orchestrated and, with Bert Draesel, created some catchy songs with a generally upbeat feel, just right for the target crowd.
The set and costumes (both designed by Jenna Rossi-Camus) were flashy and fun, perfect for children’s theatre. The shadow puppets, and the screen they played upon, were also eye-catching and a welcome addition to the children’s-theatre genre.
The Mask Of The Dancing Princess may have a few faults, but it also has enough distinctions to make it more than standard children’s theatrical fodder. The Vital Children’s Theatre has a strong history and the Princess is a worthy addition to their current season.
(Also featuring Bill Humphreys, Chris Janssen, Jessica Scuteri, David Shih, and Dax Valdes)
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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby