Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Emperor's New Clothes
Valley Youth Theatre alum Chorley's new adaptation follows the basic plot of Andersen's fable but adds plenty of fun updates to it. Chorley still focuses the tale on the Emperor who is obsessed with his colorful clothes but adds a whole new story about a young boy named PJ who helps the Emperor realize his faults. Chorley sets the play in Rainbow Valley, a town now completely devoid of color due to the Emperor having his Grand Dressir use a machine he has created to turn every last colorful object in the Valley into fabric to make clothes for the Emperor to wear. With no more color left, two con men see their path to fortune if they can make the Emperor believe their invisible garments, which they claim only the most worthy and intelligent people can see, are real and the most fabulous and colorful of garments. The royal court and the townspeople go along with the charade, afraid to be seen as unintelligent until the play comes to its happy and funny conclusion. Chorley has crafted a humorous play that includes a message about how someone's true colors are what's on the inside and not what they are wearing.
The cast is quite good, with Wil Arends perfect in his ability to prance about the stage and throw temper tantrums as the selfish Emperor, and Ian Gray a complete natural as PJ. Both have a lot to do in the show and, considering that he is just in the third grade, Gray is especially impressive in his theatrical abilities. Katy Sprowls, as the Emperor's feisty younger sister Praline, is a gifted comic actress and the many scenes she and Arends have together are some of the play's best. Johnny Robaina and Sophia Drapeau portray PJ's parents, and both do well with their parts, as do Ronnie Lopez III and Hep Witzel as the conniving scoundrels. Carly McClain, Kaila Inman, and Zane Niezgodzki make a nice trio as the Emperor's most trusted people, with McClain a hoot as the Royal Complimentor who finds some of the most uncomplimentary things to say to the Emperor.
The great thing about Chorley's adaptation is that it not only has an ongoing abundance of comic bits and gags but also some original ideas that enrich the Andersen tale as well as the overall theatrical experience. These include having PJ's father give him and his sister imaginary toys to play with, since they don't have the funds to buy real toys. When the scoundrels see PJ's sister jumping an imaginary rope it gives them the idea for the imaginary clothes. Also, the addition of the machine that turns colorful objects into colorful cloth for the Emperor's clothes provides a perfect way to show the saddened mood of everyone but the Emperor since he is the only one with color in his costumes; everyone else on stage is in shades of grey. Chorley even adds in an inspired curtain call with snatches of color-themed songs.
Chorley also directs the production and provided the fun and upbeat sound design. While, for the most part, his direction works with assured performances from each of his cast, some punchlines are rushed or not projected clear enough, and his decision to have black outs for each scene change not only stops the show repeatedly but also means the audience's applause covers the beginning of some of the narration. Also, the play could be trimmed a bit as there are a few subplots that don't add much to the overall impact. These include: a romance in the woods between PJ's sister and a character who only appears in that one scene; a musical moment that, while fun, drags the plot a bit; and a few jokes that don't land. But Chorley's dialogue is natural and funny and with just a few trims I believe his humorous adaptation could easily see future productions across the country.
Creative elements are excellent and simple, yet work perfectly with the story. Karol Copper's costumes are quite effective, with her muted designs for the members of Rainbow Valley a nice counterpoint to the outlandish colorful ensembles she has created for the Emperor. Likewise, Chelsea Umeda's scenic design uses some grey blocks that are reconfigured for the various settings, a few moving hanging pieces for the trees in the Valley and columns in the Palace, and a giant colorful throne for the Emperor.
Even with a few moments that don't quite work, Chorley and his talented cast have achieved quite a successful production with plenty of original ideas and funny moments. And the important message that it's what is inside a person that counts and not what he wears on the outside is something that children of all ages should be reminded of.
The Emperor's New Clothes at Valley Youth Theatre runs through February 22nd, 2015. The theatre is located at 525 North First Street in downtown Phoenix and ticket and performance information can be found at www.vyt.com/home or by calling 602 253-8188.
Director/Writer/Sound Designer: David Chorley