Childs play

Normally, nice Jewish American girls shun the term “princess,” but Remy Zaken is happy to embrace it. That’s because the 14-year-old Jewish actress co-stars in “A Little Princess,” a new musical making its world premiere with TheatreWorks in Mountain View this month.

“A Little Princess” is among the most beloved children’s books in the English language. So far, there have been four big-screen adaptations of the classic 1909 Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, including one starring Shirley Temple in 1939 and director Alfonso Cuarón’s 1995 version.

But this is the first time “A Little Princess” has gone Broadway.

The show opens Saturday, Aug. 28, at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Featuring a book by Brian Crawley and songs by Andrew Lippa, the musical takes some liberties with the original story, but audiences should have no trouble recognizing the plot.

“A Little Princess” tells the story of Sara Crewe, daughter of a wealthy English gentleman attending a London girls’ school run by the mean Miss Minchin.

When her father is reported killed in action, Sara is forced to become a servant. Relying upon her belief in magic, Sara meets new challenges with courage and dignity. Helping her is Becky, a poor servant girl portrayed in the new show by Zaken.

Zaken has been involved with “A Little Princess” from its inception, longer in fact than any other performer in the show. Starting in January 2002, she participated in four workshops and three investor presentations, and she’s committed to seeing the musical make it to New York.

“It’s such a good role,” says Zaken. “I hope to do it on Broadway.”

Zaken sings as well as acts, and in “A Little Princess” she shows off her talents. In the play, “Sara says she’ll be Becky’s friend. We sing ‘If the Tables Were Turned,’ and they become really good friends. In the attic they survive because they have each other.”

Zaken fared better with her own real-life family growing up in Westport, Conn., a suburban community. She attended a Conservative synagogue and became a bat mitzvah not long ago, an experience she treasures.

“I hated going to Hebrew school,” says Zaken, “but I got something out of my bat mitzvah. I worked with the rabbi one on one, and really connected to what I was talking about. I love Judaism, and I’m going to prepare my little brother for his bar mitzvah.”

Equally important to her has been her love of acting. A summer camp drama experience when she was 7 got her started, and by the time she turned 10, she and her mother were flipping through the pages of Backstage, a theatrical trade paper, looking for open auditions.

She soon landed her first serious role as Annie in “Annie Warbucks” with a local Bridgeport production.

“I loved it,” recalls Zaken. “I got an agent and my parents totally supported me, driving me to auditions.”

Other plum roles followed, including a part in a touring company of the musical “Ragtime” and the role of Rint in “Radiant Baby” a musical directed by George C. Wolfe at New York’s Public Theater. Last year she played Francie in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” She drew rave reviews with that one, The New York Times praising her “intelligently evolving performance.”

She admires actresses Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie and Kate Hudson, and she loved such recent Broadway musical hits as “Wicked,” “The Producers” and “Hairspray.” Now she hopes “A Little Princess” may someday be added to that pantheon.

Zaken isn’t 100 percent sure she will choose acting as her ultimate profession. Maybe 99 percent. “I know most actors don’t work all the time,” she says, “and it’s really hard to get a job. But I get such a rush from doing a show, I don’t think I could pick any other career.”

TheatreWorks presents “A Little Princess,” from Saturday, Aug. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 19, with previews Wednesday, Aug. 25, through Friday, Aug. 27, at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St. Times vary. Tickets: $20-$50. Information: (650) 903-6000, or

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.