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Friday, September 22, 2023


Festival entertains youth

Audiences of The Emperor’s New Clothes, the latest production from the Children’s Theater Festival being hosted at UH’s Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre, aren’t likely to find many surprises.

Adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s timeless fairy tale, the play opens with the Emperor, a vain and narcissistic ruler played convincingly by Dylan Godwin. The Emperor rules his kingdom under an unwitting and careless thumb; while his honest, hardworking citizens struggle to make ends meet, the Emperor continuously searches for lavishly expensive clothes used to spoil himself and his daughter (Jessica Boone).

In a slight variation on the classic play, the two swindlers are played by the Emperor’s kindhearted daughter Princess Liane (Emily Neves) and the magician Jang (Trevor Pittinger). Liane and Jang, disguised as master tailors from the Far East, conspire to give the Emperor a suit that’s entirely invisible, telling him that only those who are pure of heart are able to behold its beauty.

The Emperor, given to self-delusion, pretends he can see the clothes for fear of appearing wicked and ends up parading around the stage in his undergarments. The Emperor realizes his mistake, and the play comes to a close with the tolerance, understanding and forgiveness required of its storybook ending.

The humor, while potentially tiresome for adults, has the quality of a Saturday morning cartoon, which will appeal to a younger audience with its exaggerated expressions and occasional physical humor. Still, moms and dads may find themselves wishing The Emperor’s New Clothes took a Shrek-like approach to its humor, which used "in jokes" and self-parody to make century-old fairy tales exciting again.

At least half of The Emperor’s New Clothes’ narrative unfolds through musical numbers, told through well-choreographed dance routines and surprisingly strong singing on the part of the actors. The stages, props and set design, as typical of the Children’s Theater Festival, were remarkably convincing and well done.

As a traditional retelling of a classic fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes delivers an entertaining summer experience for children in what’s likely their first exposure to theater. Accompanying adults may wish for a little more, but considering the fervent atmosphere as the children awaited autographs and a chance to meet the actors, The Emperor’s New Clothes is undoubtedly a success.

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