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The Prince & the Pauper kicks off Youtheatre’s 71st season

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


At first glance, Fort Wayne Youtheatre’s 2004 – 2005 season might seem to have a distinct theme running through it — The Prince and the Pauper, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Secret Garden. It may sound like a middle-school reading list, but Youtheatre director Harvey Cocks says it wasn’t intentional. “We came up with the season, and someone said, ‘hey, we’ve got kind of a literary season going on here,’” he says. “It just happened by accident.”

What led to this season’s selection was a constant search for new, fresh material. Youtheatre is now in its 71st, so finding a play that hasn’t been done before can be a challenge. The Prince and the Pauper and Secret Garden fit the bill perfectly. “It’ll be the third production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for us,” says Cocks, who ranks the stage adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic as one of the best adaptations he’s ever come across. “But we’ve never done the other two.”

The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain’s story of a sheltered prince and a rough-and-tumble street urchin who decide to switch lives, has been reinterpreted countless times for stage and film. The Youtheatre production is Cocks own adaptation. He says he tried to stick close to Mark Twain’s original, though he took a few small liberties with the presentation. “It’s written as a play within a play,” he explains. “It’s supposed to be a first rehearsal/dress rehearsal of a show, so it’s partial costume, partial set. I thought the audience might be interested in seeing how a show is put together.”

Chandler Chastain tackles the role of the imperious Prince Edward. “He’s spoiled beyond belief,” says 12-year-old Chastain, who has been in several other Youtheatre productions. “He can’t do anything for himself, because he has about 120 servants. He doesn’t even dress himself.” In short, he’s a complete and total brat who mouths off to everyone around him and even has a servant to take his punishments for him. I ask Chastain if he likes playing a jerk. “Yep,” he jokes. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Keelan Rushing plays the Prince’s alter-ego Tom, the pauper from Awful Alley. For a 12-year-old, Rushing has a pretty lengthy acting resume, including (besides Youtheatre) plays at school and church, and even a film and commercial credit. Cocks credits Rushing’s enthusiasm for providing a quick solution to a potential problem — the story requires Edward and Tom to be identical. In real life, Chastain is blond and Rushing is dark-haired, so Rushing eagerly volunteered to dye his hair lighter. “I dyed it dark last year for Wee Pals,” he says, explaining it’s no big deal for him. (“Fortunately, his mother is a hair-dresser,” adds Cocks.)

Rushing says that he really likes the play’s role-switching plot (“I get to pretend to not be someone else”) and adds that one of his favorite scenes is the first scene Tom appears in, where he and his friends from the alley get to have a sword fight and horse around.

While Chastain and Rushing are relative veterans of Youtheatre, 12-year-old Corinne Lambert will be taking the stage for the first time, playing Prince Edward’s half-sister Lady Jane Grey. “She’s kind of timid, but she always stands up for Edward,” Lambert says. “They’re half-brother and sister, and she feels she has to look out for him because he’s going to be the king someday.”

Lambert worked backstage on the Youtheatre’s production of Steal Away Home last year, and says that thought she’s a little nervous about being on the other side of the curtain, it’s something she’s wanted to do for a long time. “I’m having a lot of fun, and I think it’s going to be a good production.”

The Prince & the Pauper
October 16 and 17, 2 p.m.
Performing Arts Center
303 E Main
Call (260) 422-4226 October 11 – October 15, noon to 4:00 p.m. to reserve tickets.

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