The Little Prince, now on Broadway, has some surprising NYC roots

The creative team talks about the inspiration behind the new production.

The Little Prince
Photograph: Courtesy Prudence UptonThe Little Prince

In The Little Prince, author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes, “All grown-ups were once children, but only few of them remember that.” 

That idea is the thread that director-choreographer Anne Tournié and librettist-co-director Chris Mouron (who also performs as The Narrator in the show) are following in their musical stage adaptation of the novel, playing a limited run at the Broadway Theatre until August 14. 

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Perhaps because, for them, The Little Prince was woven into the fabric of their own childhoods.

“My father was a big fan,” says Tournié. “He offered the book to my mother when they got married with a note inside that said, ‘This will be a guide for your life.’ Then my mother read it to me as a child. Now it's the guide for my life.” 

Mouron was 12 years-old when she was introduced to the story at school through a teacher playing the 1954 vinyl audiobook recording with Gerard Phillipe.

“I was in tears,” Mouron remembers. “It was an emotional shock. It was so beautiful. I felt so close to the Little Prince [character].”

Channeling their lifelong love of the story, the duo started translating the story to the stage beginning in 2018. Like its original source material, their musicalized stage version follows “the Little Prince on his journey as he meets many fascinating characters who help him learn how to follow his heart.”

For him the only possibility was to go to New York.

Starring Lionel Zalachas as the titular character, Tournié and Mouron’s interpretation of the best-selling novel invites audiences into an immersive experience rooted in Tournié’s dance background and aerial arts expertise. For Tournié, there was a distinct opportunity to construct the story’s world between ground and air, seamlessly blending the two through choreography.

“My [choreographic] language for being in the air and on the ground is the same,” says Tournié. “There is no difference.” 

Mouron recalls that when she first suggested The Little Prince to Tournié as their next project, Tournié could easily visualize the choreographic elements for individual characters, taking just an hour to plot out the entirety of what her version of the story would look like.

“She said, ‘The Lamplighter will do the flying pole. The Rose will be a contemporary dancer,’” Mouron begins. Tournié continues, “And the Little Prince would be a flier using straps because he is traveling from planet to planet.”

Even with a clear vision, Tournié didn’t rush her choreographic process. To work out the movement vocabulary for each character, she spent three months alone in a rehearsal room parsing it out.

“I went into the room to think before moving my body at all,” says Tournié. “I isolated myself so I could make sure each movement had a meaning and was clear for the audience.”

Tournié and Moroun acknowledge the adaptation is a bit of a departure from standard Broadway fare, but playing in New York City is actually a bit of a homecoming for The Little Prince. While exiled from Occupied France during World War II, Saint-Exupéry penned and illustrated the original novel 80 years ago in a Manhattan townhouse and the historic Delamater-Bevin Mansion on the north shore of Long Island. 

“He escaped,” says Mouron. “He didn’t want to stay in France during the war, he didn’t want to go to England. For him the only possibility was to go to New York. He wrote this book at this very depressing moment. He probably wouldn’t have written the book in a different time.” 

When The Little Prince was first published in the United States in April 1943, it spent two weeks on The New York Times Best-Sellers list. Saint-Exupéry never saw the novel published in his home country, as it was finally published in France in 1946, which was two years after Saint-Exupéry disappeared during a reconnaissance mission flight in 1944.

Over the following decades, The Little Prince has become the second most translated book in modern history, surpassed only by the Bible. In addition to selling over 200 million copies worldwide, the story has been adapted for different mediums, including a 1974 film starring Bob Fosse and Gene Wilder and a 2015 animated film starring Rachel McAdams and Paul Rudd. Its popularity has an international reach that has led to a theme park in South Korea and a museum in Japan.

Tournié and Mouron have experienced the global reaction to The Little Prince first-hand.

“We’ve played in Paris, Sydney, and Dubai,” says Mouron. “They’re all very different kinds of audiences and cultures, but the reaction was the same. It’s the same reaction in New York.” She pauses and smiles, “Well, Broadway is more generous.”

The pair understands they’re building on the story’s long and abundant history. They don’t want to erase the adaptations that have come before, but instead add their artistic perspective to the tapestry of The Little Prince’s legacy. As they continue to develop their own intimate relationship with the beloved story, they’ve discovered that it will continue to resonate with all ages for generations to come. 

“It’s a tale about humanity,” says Tournié. 

“The miracle of this story is that every child and every grown-up will find himself or herself in the Little Prince,” says Mouron. “When they leave the theater, we want them to remember the child they were.”

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