King Maximillian and his mother, Old Queen Maude, seek the insight of Esmeralda Smythe — the wisest (and only) gypsy in the kingdom. They hear that their son, Prince Valiant, must seek a suitable wife — the operative word being suitable. His search for a real princess and how he finally discovers her provides a lesson in, as the old adage says, how not to judge a book by its cover.
Written by Michele L. Vacca and based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Princess and the Pea” comes to the stage at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 N. First St. in Phoenix, Feb. 7-23.
“This is actually the sixth time we’ve produced ‘The Princess and the Pea,’” says Bobb Cooper, VYT’s producing artistic director. “Other seasons were 1992, 1996, 2001, 2007 and 2013. As with all of our productions, I hope it’s better each time we perform it, and that our audience is even more delighted with what they see on stage.”
What’s different this time around?
“One difference we’ve realized is that stories about princesses aren’t just for little girls any more,” he says. “In today’s world, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how you identify. A story about a princess — especially a strong, independent one — is one that can be enjoyed by all.”
The play is directed by guest director, Carolyn Marie Wright, with scenic design by Dori Brown and costume design by Karol Cooper. Joycelin Jacobs-Schwartz is production stage manager.
Wright notes that besides being a fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea” is a tale of adventure. “This production is a fun, powerful tale of friendship, love and discovering your inner truth,” she says. “Whether you’re a princess or a squire, you matter in this world. We wanted to build a bright, colorful world onstage and add fairy-tale flair with a strong message … and have fun!”
Making her eighth VYT appearance as Princess Olivia, the genuine article, is Anna Mettes, an 18-year-old senior at Arizona School for the Arts, where she has appeared in “Antigone” (Ismene) and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Marcy Park).
Colin Graeff, making his VYT debut, plays Prince Valiant. Colin is 17 and a senior at Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, where he has appeared as Franz in “The Sound of Music,” Dr. Chasuble in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and Eugene Gant in “Look Homeward Angel.”
King Maximillian is the fourth VYT role for Kendall Hook, a 15-year-old Scottsdale sophomore. Previously, he played Dwalin in “The Hobbit,” a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” and was a member of the ensemble in “Matilda.”
Also making her VYT debut, as Old Queen Maude, is Gwyneth Doebbeling, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Kyrene Altadena Middle School in Ahwatukee.
Esmeralda Smythe is played by Ellie Pompay, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at St. Francis Xavier in Phoenix, where she appeared in “Willy Wonka Jr.” (Veruca) and “Lion King Jr.” (Nala). In his 15th VYT production, 18-year-old Justin Vaught plays Donald Dunce, the prince’s loyal squire. A student at Phoenix’s Desert Vista High School, Justin has appeared in several of the schools productions, Hale Centre Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” (Peter Cratchit) and Plan B Entertainment’s “Les Misérables” (Gavroche).
When Prince Valiant and his squire, Donald Dunce, go on a search for a suitable princess, they meet princesses of all kinds.
“Each of the five princesses in the story has a unique quality,” Wright says. “And the story celebrates each characteristic and personality trait. Along the way, Prince Valiant searches for someone who is ‘his match.’ I love how the people he meets on his journey help him grow. When he returns to his kingdom, he knows who he is and discovers friendship — and love. All because of Princess Olivia.”
What does Wright want those who attend a performance to take away?
“My hope is that the audience leaves the theater with a sense of delight and joy, knowing that there is a place for people of all kinds in this world,” she says. “There is somebody out there for everyone. It doesn’t have to be all about romance and marriage. It can also be about friendship and ‘chosen family.’ Sometimes it takes a journey to find your people, your match and yourself. And the journey is worth it.”