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'Little Princess' is a royal success

The Baltimore Sun

With its production of A Little Princess at Chesapeake Arts Center Studio Theatre, Merely Players continues its tradition of bringing together intergenerational casts and behind-the-scenes youths and parents to provide high-quality theater.

The show, which I believe is new to our area, is based on the children's story by Frances Hodgson Burnett. John Vreeke adapted A Little Princess for the stage with music by Will Severin and George David Weiss.

Burnett, who also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Lost Prince and The Secret Garden, was adept at adding romance to her characters' difficult lives to create uplifting stories.

The title character of this musical is Sara Crewe, who moves from the privileged status of having her own private quarters provided by her military father at a prestigious all-girls boarding school to sharing an attic room with other maids after her father is killed in the war.

"Sara's story has relevance today wherever children are displaced or orphaned," director Beverly van Joolen says. "Like Sara, children in Iraq, America and the United Kingdom are suffering horrendous losses, and their numbers are growing every day."

Sara survives by believing in dreams, finding enchantment and mystery through the Indian valet who moves in next door and encourages her to believe in magic and the power of love.

In this Merely Players production, every detail gets attention, including having young cast members charmingly dressed in Victorian costumes greet arriving theatergoers.

Van Joolen has assembled a 44-member cast, including only a few adults. These young people are well-rehearsed and deliver polished performances. In the leading role of Sara Crewe, Christina Bartone, 13, is believable, and she sings well. Bronwyn van Joolen as Ermengarde, Addie Binstock as Becky and Caroline Nyce as Lavinia also are top-notch.

Among the adults, Michelle Harmon, who plays Indian valet Ram Dass, has an arresting stage presence and one of the best singing voices on stage. Mason Holloway is convincing as Sara's father, Captain Crewe. Michelle Studnicky is excellent as mean Miss Minchin, and Victoria Dawn Raddin is impressive throughout and especially so in her rebellious scene as Miss Amelia. Vince van Joolen adds warmth and deep-felt emotion as Mr. Carrisford, who becomes Sara's benefactor.

Studio Theatre's small stage space is used well, with impressive sets brimming with talented, young people. Children arrive and depart through the aisles, becoming even closer to bring the audience into the action.

Everything about this performance - light and sound, choreography and costumes - is first-rate and worthy of its near-capacity audience on opening night.

Performances continue at 7:30 tonight, tomorrow and May 4, and at 3 p.m. Sunday and May 6. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students, senior citizens, Merely Players members, military families and groups of 20 or more. 410-636-6597.

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