Opening Thursday night at the Strand is a lavish musical that ends with Queen Victoria herself saving the day and declaring “anyone can be a princess.” Young ladies may find that this revival of the 2004 musical “A Little Princess” lends wings to their dreams of tiaras and coaches, but three black Dorchester males are reporting that it is giving them practical experience in re-enacting their African roots.
The Nov. 21 show is the first of 14 performances of “A Little Princess” as presented by the Fiddlehead Theatre Company, declared earlier this year by Mayor Menino as the 2013-14 resident theatre company of the Strand. This “heart-felt musical for the whole family” runs through December 8. Fiddlehead is offering a special discount $10 for Dot residents this weekend only; those interested should check with the box office.
Last year Fiddlehead proved it could mount a Broadway-sized production in Uphams Corner when, with assistance from the Boston chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, it staged the hit show “Ragtime.” In addition to garnering respectable reviews, Fiddlehead’s “Ragtime” averaged 550 spectators a night over its 12-performance run, selling out a few times and breaking even over all by attracting large multiethnic audiences.
When asked whether the success of “Ragtime” influenced her choice of a follow-up for its first “official” debut at the Strand, Fiddlehead’s Producing Artistic Director Meg Fofonoff replied, “ ‘A Little Princess’ has a wonderful multicultural message for the holidays that, like ‘Ragtime,’ brings together people of different origins.”
The show is based on the 1905 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who also wrote “The Secret Garden” and “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” Since the copyright has lapsed, her novel has been adapted into at least eight different musicalizations. The Strand version features book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and a score by Andrew Lippa, represented currently on Broadway by the show “Big Fish.”
Those who remember the fairly lily-white 1939 Shirley Temple screen vehicle will be surprised by the number of African Americans in this show. Burnett’s tearjerker about a British girl from colonial India who falls from being a coddled prize student to an abused servant girl in an English boarding school has morphed into an uplifting saga of a miss lovingly raised in Africa who is rescued by her native friends from the clutches of the sour-faced headmistress.
Three members of the “African Ensemble” live in Dorchester. Dwaine Devon-Daye, who was also part of “Ragtime,” was featured recently in the Herald as a Boston firefighter who moonlights in musicals. Christopher Pittman, another “Ragtime” vet, recalls, “I was in awe to think of all the great performers that have graced the Strand stage, and now I too get the opportunity to be a part of that history.” The third Dot cast member, Steven Martin, recalls, “I have walked by the Strand so many times, but never knew exactly how beautiful it was inside until I came to see ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ a few years ago. After that performance, I knew that I wanted to be on the Strand stage.”
Just as Fiddlehead lured “Ragtime” librettist Terrence McNally to come to see the Dorchester production, Fofonoff has persuaded both the “Princess” composer and librettist to host post-show audience talk-backs.
In April 2014, after the Strand has completed a $1.2 million technical upgrade, Fiddlehead will be back with a professional cast of more than 30 and a live orchestra to do the Elton John-Tim Rice pop version of the opera “Aida.” Get all the details at fiddleheadtheatre.org