Summer fun at Navy Pier adds the excitement of family theater at Chicago Shakespeare Theater as the bring a new musical fable to the Courtyard stage, This is a new interpretation/adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved “The Emperor’s New Clothes” but witha twist . With a book by David Holstein and wonderful music and lyrics by Alan Schmuckler, children of all ages can learn a lot about communication and parent child relationships. If you recall the original story, the Emperor was a clothes horse who wanted the best of everything and each year, during the country parade he would dress in his finest to have the peasants see how wonderful his life was. In the original story he was told that there was a special fabric, one that only the finest people can see and in his mind, feeling he is of the finest, sees it and in the parade all the townspeople close their eyes in order not to see him in the “altogether” as Danny Kaye cleverly put it in the song he sang as Andersen in the movie of his life.
In this rendition, there is no nudity and there is what I would call the twist to the moral of the story. The Emperor ( played to perfection by Don Forston) has a daughter, Sam ( deftly handled by the adorable Megan Long) who cares about the people, unlike her father and cares nothing about clothes. Lord Vince, who truly wants to do what he can to unseat the Emperor makes a plan with the tailor and her son to produce a fabric that is magical and of course invisible to those who are not royalty. Lord Vince is played by Jonathan Weir, a notable actor who takes on this comical role with just the right touch and when he does his song and dance number”Linin My Ducks In A Row”, we truly see a new side of this actor’s talent. It has always been said he can do anything on a stage, and he can! His cohorts in this plot are the always reliable Anne Gunn as Mama and Alex Goodrich, always able to pull solid comical characters.
This is by far one of the smallest Musical Comedy casts one will see on a children’s theater stage with a total of 8 actors. Five of them have been mentioned and are main characters to the story. The other three actors who play the undersecretaries to the Emperor among a great many others are the ensemble. Jarrod Zimmerman, George Andrew Wolff and Mark David Kaplan- these three men make some of the fastest costume character changes in the history of Shakespeare Theater. Amazing. Even more amazing is that when I was speaking to the kids in my area, they did not realize that these three actors played all the other roles. When the “finale and curtain calls began, they were amazed not to see the townspeople, in particular the funny blind man ( Kaplan did a great Mel Brooks type character for this one). This was 65 minutes of pure magic for the families in the audience.
Directed by veteran Rachel Rockwell, who truly understands that children’s theater must keep the pace in order not to lose the interest of the audience- she moves her cast from aisle to aisle with great timing and while Kevin Depinet’s set is bright and fantastic it is not overbearing sllowing for easy changes. Jesse Klug’s lighting and Debbie Baer’s costumes along with the marvelous wigs by MelissaVeal are the icing on a delightfully delicious cake that families can enjoy either as part of an all day visit to Navy Pier or just a trip for the theater alone. This production is worth the trip. The musicians, two keyboards and percussion under the direction of Shawn Stengel bring a full sound to the music by Schmucklerand while these “show tunes” are not hummable ,the certainly add to the fun and magic of this summer’s hit musical and of greater importance, the story is one that children and thier parents can benefit from..parents are not always right- sometimes the kids are.
“Emperor” will continue at Navy Pier through August 29th to check out performance schedule www.chicagoshakes.com where you can also order your tickets. Tickets range from $18-$23 and discount parking is available. More info call 312-595-5600