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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the July 3, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In New York: `Prince & the Pauper’

Parents who may want to either introduce their younger

children, let’s say from ages 5 to 10, to a Broadway musical, or to

seek out one beside the two Walt Disney produced shows "Beauty

and the Beast," and "The Lion King," should consider "The

Prince and the Pauper." This recent entry into the family-friendly

group of Broadway attractions has just enough history, just enough

histrionics and hi-jinks to cover its almost too-long 2-1/2 hour length.

Mostly its offers the pleasure of watching two delightful young actors

hold the stage as the twins who trade places.

While this musical version of the Mark Twain classic is not in the

same league with the aforementioned spectacle-heavy productions, it

offers plenty of comedy and adventure for the very young and enough

professional polish and panache to keep the accompanying adults captivated.

The book writers Bernie Garzia and Ray Roderick (who also directs

the show) have not attempted to tax our minds by involving us directly

in the court politics, the intrigue, and royal chicanery that was

happening (presumably off-stage) during the reign of King Henry VIII.

They have kept the focus on the boys. There is reasonable attention

paid to royal household’s lack of concern for the poor and the lamentable

system of justice.

We are committed from the start with the exploits of a young street

beggar Tom Canty (Gerard Canonico), who, making the best of his plight,

fancies himself as a Prince and Prince Edward (Dennis Michael Hall)

who, making the worst of his station, would like nothing better than

to escape his royal responsibilities. Their chance meeting after a

royal parade leads them, after a bit of playful sparring, to ponder

how much they look alike ("If I Were You"). I can’t imagine

any young person not wanting to get right into the action as Canty

and Hall — both excellent singers — consider "The Thrill

of Adventure."

Spoiled and petulant and utterly contemptuous of his royal birth,

Edward is only too eager to change garments with Tom and hit the streets

running. Unhappy at his lot, Tom relishes the idea of entering his

new digs. Needless to say the House of Tudor and the poverty row house

where Tom lives with his abusive father and his compassionate mother

are soon in a state of confusion dealing with boys whose behavior

suddenly don’t seem familiar. To make things more fun, both the confounded

King Henry VIII and Tom’s abusive father John Canty are both played

by Michael McCormick with an aptitude for lickety-split costume changes.

Thrown into the royal mix is prisoner-of-war escapee Miles Hendon

(Rob Evans), who, though he is far from a challenge to Errol Flynn,

displays some robust derring-do as he makes his way back to the Tudor

castle to reclaim his lost lady love Edith (played by a charming Rita

Harvey) and regain his place at court since usurped by his deceiving

brother Hugh (a cunning and villainy-disposed Stephen Zinnato). Acting

as champion of the young pretender, Evans presents a dashing presence

and a strong voice in his impressive solo "Almost Home."

Comic relief comes in the form of Robert Anthony Jones, who triples

in the roles of a prophetizing hermit, the prince’s out-of-the-Tudor-closet

valet, and a grotesque grandma. A little romance does not go a wanting

as petite Allison Fisher, who has a sturdy belting voice that belies

her young age, pins her hopes and her high notes on the Prince.

If I may quibble a little about the way composer Neil Berg’s songs

seem to repeat an emotion and a feeling just expressed. We have just

heard the town crier proclaiming over and over that the Prince is

coming. Why is there a need to follow that with a song "The Prince

is Coming?" And what is the need, after the Dresser and household

are convinced that the Prince is "simple," for a redundant

song "Simple Boy"? Even Musical Theater 101 advises that a

song in a musical reveal those things than cannot be fulfilled by

words alone. Half the songs seem to have this problem, although children

may be more responsive to the way the musical material is served.

While all the performers are grade A, under the somewhat

predictable direction of Roderick, the show would not have been nearly

as good without the perfect pairing of Hall and Canonico. Each of

these nicely contrasted lads displays an endearing personality and

an impressive talent. Designer Dana Kenn’s unit set, that resembles

a picture-book pop-up castle, is artfully created to enable whatever

it takes to keep this classic story of medieval England moving to

its edifying end. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

The Prince and the Pauper, Lamb’s Theater, 130 West 44th

Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, New York. $40 to $55. Tele-Charge

at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200 .

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