by Terrance Mc Arthur
You may think you know the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, but you’ve never seen it like this! The Enchanted Playhouse Theatre Company of Visalia has New Clothes for the Emperor, adapted from Hans Christian Anderson by Cynthia Mercati, and it is a light, frothy, unabashedly silly way to entertain children and adults.
You probably know about the fashion-happy ruler who is duped by a pair of swindlers who claim they can make clothes so fine that the foolish and unfit for office can’t even see it. Mercati ‘fleshed” out the “skin” of the tale by adding a love story and a nefarious villain. Carrie Murphy and Debbie Metzler designed the “bare-bones” skeleton set. Karen Kirkpatrick and James McDonnell “clothed” it in sumptuous, inventive costumes. Directors Tim Budz and Debbie Hardin formed it all into a fine “body” of work.
The show has an overblown “mellerdrammer” quality, underscored by one slapstick-style sequence that uses strobe lights to give a flickering, silent-movie atmosphere.
Jack Patiño is the Emperor, blissfully unaware of the hunger and sadness of his people, and obsessed with his motto, “Clothes Make the Man.” His reaction to discovering that his new clothes don’t exist is priceless, and his bathtub conversations with his rubber ducky are charming.
Alison Wahlen, who I described as a “country-western steamroller” in The Little Mermaid, does battle with massive skirts as the Empress, lords it over her underlings, and is topped by a pink-tinged wig that looks like it lost a battle with a cotton-candy machine.
Said underlings, Gabardine (Savana Vernon) and the Narrator (Kelly Ventura), work their way through the show, dusting and sweeping. Savana manages to be both perky and whiny, while Kelly squeezes a herald trumpet into his broomwork and exposition. Sean McMichael somehow coordinates all the musical bleatings and odd sounds the show requires into a pleasing aural tapestry.
The love-story triangle places Princess Chenille (Angela Rozum) as the object of desire for the oily Prime Minister, de Gauche (Douglas Anderson). Rozum, who floated across the Enchanted stage as the Dew Fairy in Pinocchio, does a different kind of floating in a bottom-cinched dress that would look at home on Thanksgiving, being towed through the Macy’s Parade. Anderson oozes fake charm as the politician who sees a chance to marry into royalty, but he meets his match in the poor-but-honest Captain Herringbone (Garren J. Adams). Adams is earnest and cheerful, looking somewhere between an older Justin Bieber and a younger Ozzie Osbourne.
The dishonest clothing designers (Jacob Budz, Zach McGuire) gleefully mime their weaving activities, and seem to enjoy their duplicity. A small crowd of children (Elijah Martinez, Parker Philpott, Shaye Ramirez, Jonah Munyon, Abigail Munyon) round out one of the smallest casts (with the highest percentage of grown-ups) that I have ever seen in one of The Enchanted Playhouse’s productions.
It is harmless fun (The audience probably spends more time wondering how the Emperor’s clothing-optional parade through the town will be portrayed than the procession actually takes), and contains one of the most outrageous, groan-making puns that I have ever heard (but only people who lived through the 70s will get it). When this show ends its run, you won’t want them to “Take it off, take it off,” you’ll want them to “Put it on, put it on…again.”
New Clothes for the Emperor continues with 7 p.m. shows on Fridays and Saturdays through February 23, and a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, February 17. Adult admission is $10, and children’s tickets are $8. The Enchanted Playhouse Theatre Company is located at The Main Street Theatre, 307 E. Main in Visalia. For information, call (559) 739-4600. You can learn more on their website and keep an eye on KRL’s local theatre event page for info on future shows.
By the way, if you have an hour or so of time before or after the show, you might want to wander east down the block to Visalia Tea Garden, a friendly little Chinese restaurant. The Half and Half Special ($7.50) starts with soup, and you pick an A dish and a B dish. Group A is a choice of steamed rice, pork fried rice, or chow mein, followed by an entrée from Group B. We had Broccoli Beef and the Sweet-and-Sour Pork. The translucent soup is loaded with peas, mushroom, and chicken. The pan-fried chow mein noodles are unusually soft and thin—Delectable! The Broccoli Beef is very tender, and the pork has lots of pineapple and whisper-soft onions. The Visalia Tea Garden has been around for over 90 years. They take the time to do things right. It’s worth the wait. By the by-the-way, the theatre volunteers will cheerfully hold your leftovers behind the snack counter until the show is over.