Most of the drama for Weston Playhouse’s world preem musical, “Saint-Ex,” happened offstage when Hurricane Irene became a literal showstopper, flooding the Vermont theater and cancelling fully staged perfs after four previews. It looked like the musical about the life of author-aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery — who wrote classic fable “The Little Prince” — wouldn’t get the chance to take off, but the waters receded, the community rallied, equipment was donated and by week’s end the show reopened at about 85% production strength. The result is a tuner whose first act soars before it takes a second act tailspin.
The first half proves a promising, charming and well-executed bio-drama, with Alexander Gemignani giving a robust, amusing and well-sung perf as the title hyphenate. Narrative centers on Saint-Ex’s stormy relationship with Consuelo (Krysta Rodriguez), the twice-widowed Salvadoran woman he pursued when he was flying for the Aeropostale mail service in South America and North Africa in the late ’20s and ’30s, and there’s also a storyline involving the camaraderie of this special breed of daring pilots.
Giving the act a special glow are the beguiling flashbacks with Saint-Ex’s dearly departed younger brother Francois (wonderfully played by the self-possessed Carl Kimbrough), appearing remarkably like the Little Prince the author would later sketch for his sublime tale. These scenes — even more that Saint-Ex’s romance — give the show its heart and takes the piece to intriguing, unexplored territory (though one longed for a song for such a special kid).
But in the second act “Saint-Ex” loses its way, abandons the boy, and gets bogged down in historic details, trite tunes (“Gay Paris”), the increasingly tiresome and shrill marriage, confusing character shifts and a few strained references to the book. What is missing (until the end) is the return of the prince of a brother.
Kent Nicholson helms with a constant sense of motion that echoes Saint-Ex’s wanderlust personality. But few could navigate the second act jumble by newbie book writer Sean Barry, who also wrote the lyrics for composer wife Jenny Giering’s mostly pleasant tunes, especially first act’s “The Proposal,” “I’m Coming Home” and “A Tablecloth.”
Cass Morgan effortlessly plays the protag’s stoic but loving Maman while the pilot pals are lost in a blur of hale and heartiness, though Charlie Brady manages a few nice moments as the primo buddy.
Much second act work needs to be done on every level if the tuner hopes to have a future. Major rethink should be on whose story this is and how much — or better yet, how little — to tell. But as demonstrated in its first act, when it has its heart in the right place and that little guy is around, it can also fly high. And even in its current form, it remains a production that lifts the spirits of a resilient playhouse and its arts-loving community.
Songs: “For the Pilot,” “Letter to Consuelo,” “In the Air,” “South America,” “Come with Me,” “I’m Coming Home,” “The Proposal,” “Letter to Maman,” “Consuelo,” “The Wife of a Pilot,” “A Tablecloth,” “Three Days,” “Love Is Letting Go,” “Gay Paris,” “Travels for the Paris-Soir,” “Beside the Saone,” “A Pilot’s Desire,” “Maman’s Garden,” “Tango of the Rose,” “Little Prince,” “If You Leave Now,” “Home/Back in the Plane.”