WHAT: "The Little Prince."
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Bergen Performing Arts Center, 30 N. Van Brunt St., Englewood; 201-227-1030 or ticketmaster.com.
HOW MUCH: $29 to $49.
It's a tough job getting toddlers to look up from their mobile devices.
But Michael Schupbach, puppet designer for "The Little Prince," coming to bergenPAC this weekend, says his sparsely staged show keeps kids of all ages in a state of wonder.
Based on the 1943 children's novella by French aristocrat and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the puppet-based production features a simple set of a sandbox and screen, out of which a wall of roses appears and mountains grow. "The whole thing has this magical quality. It's very fantastical, yet all of this is happening live," said the Emmy Award-winning puppet designer, who also plays the fox. "A lot of kids are asking how it works. It keeps them interested and thinking about what's happening."
A timeless, universal story about innocence, love and loss, "The Little Prince" has been translated into more than 200 languages. Inspired by Saint-Exupéry's real-life experience crashing in the Sahara desert, the story is narrated by a pilot who crashes in the desert and meets a childlike little prince. The young protagonist who has the purest of love for a rose back on his home planet is one of the most memorable characters in literature.
"We really wanted to make sure if you're an adult who's read the book, you will come and see something familiar and find a new level of appreciation," said Schupbach. "And if you never read the book, not only will you be engaged but you may want to pick it up and explore it on your own."
In the style of the hit Broadway musical "Avenue Q," puppeteers are visible onstage while playing the various characters. Choosing the size and scale of each puppet, explains Schupbach, is an important part of their design. "We have to look at the character and who he is and let that decide the size." The king character "thinks he's in charge of everything, but really is in charge of nothing," so as a puppet, he is made small. The vain man is a puppet with a gigantic head.
Schupbach makes a brief but integral appearance near the end of the show as the 2-foot-tall fox. The cunning fox, in fact, delivers the heart of the story. "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye," the fox instructs the prince.