Presented by Dim Sum Theatricals as part of The Fourth Annual International Midtown Theatre Festival, casting by Robin Carus, at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 W. 36 St., NYC, July 14-Aug. 3.
It's based on a novel by Lloyd Alexander. It borrows from the traditions of Chinese opera. Yet what "The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen" most immediately calls to mind is a post-1980s animated Disney feature.
There's the naïve and spoiled title character (Elton Lin), who's sent by his father as emissary to the kingdom of T'ien-kuo. There's his wisecracking, food-obsessed servant-sidekick, Mafoo (Arthur Delos Santos), who—if this were really a cartoon—might be drawn as a plump furry creature indigenous to the region (a giant panda, perhaps). There's a self-reliant young peasant girl, Voyaging Moon (Veronica Arriola), who has the pragmatic, real-life smarts that Jen lacks. Book writer-lyricist Brian Vinero and composer Seth Weinstein even give V.M. a character-establishing number, "The Prince Won't Arrive," that could serve as an anthem for all of those latter-day Disney heroines who've done some critical thinking about Snow White's "Some Day My Prince Will Come."
A few songs here recall the gloppy ballads favored by "American Idol" contestants. But in the ensemble numbers—such as the rousing "On the Night Before," led by the narrator character (Richard Chang)—Vinero and Weinstein's musicianship straightens up and flies right.
Vinero's script provides for plenty of simple, imaginative staging, and, for the most part, it's nicely realized by director Joel Froomkin (who also designed the production and masks). Streamers signify a rainstorm. Parasols suggest wagon wheels. A magic sword is personified by a seductive woman (Christina Nuki).
And Erica Weiner's rich costumes contribute enormously.
But the creative team can't quite resist a self-referential wink. At one point, Jen and company approach some rushing water and a masked boatman appears.
"I see: We're going to use a ferryman with an invisible boat to represent a river," remarks Mafoo.
Funny. But, in a way, it's a pity they didn't manage to play things straight.