Arts Listings

‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ for Youngsters

By Ken Bullock
Friday April 11, 2008

The Emperor’s New Clothes, a family show by that great musicals team Ahrens & Flaherty (Seussical, Ragtime), will be staged by Active Arts for Young Audiences, opening this weekend at the Julia Morgan Center on College Avenue. 

The old story’s presented with a twist: the emperor’s a 14-year-old boy (though played by a professional adult actor, part of Active Arts’ credo), Marcus the Third, who’s approaching his imperial inauguration nervously. A smart kid who likes to read, Marcus doesn’t think he has what it takes to be an emperor—not if an emperor’s a big, tough guy wielding a sword. 

“Marcus begins to think, perhaps it’s the clothes which make the emperor,” said Nina Meehan, executive director of Active Arts and co-producer of this show.  

Meehan described the musical, which she said was in a new version being premiered in California by Active Arts with the shows at the Julia Morgan, directed by Mike Kasin. With sophisticated music and humor to engage the older kids and the adults, Meehan said it welcomes younger children to the world of theater, with interactive moments (”the audience helps make a parade”), vibrantly colorful costumes and a medieval fairytale inspiration reminding audiences the story came from books—a pop-up storybook effect “that pops out to the audience.” 

Plus, Meehan said, “there’s a song every three minutes that tells the story, drives the plot” in a show that, with intermission, runs about an hour and 20 minutes. 

“My favorite moment in the play,” said Meehan, “is a really fun song, a duet between the emperor and the scullery maid. They’ve become friends, though they’re not supposed to, and realize they can play together, use their imaginations to create stories. So they play a guessing game. They come from different worlds, but find common ground.” 

Meehan continued: “What’s neat for me as a producer to see is the scullery maid being played by Jayne Deely, a recent Fordham graduate and newcomer to the Bay Area, while Emperor Marcus is played by Brendan Simon, who performed in our first show ever, at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in 2004, and has always done our choreography.” 

Meehan calls the cast of five “spectacular, all incredible vocalists” with each actor (except Simon) playing two roles. 

Active Arts is committed to producing shows based on children’s literature, “to enchant children and their families, encourage them to use their imaginations, and entertain not only the child, but the mother, aunt and older sister or brother sitting next to them,” Meehan said. “Hopefully, we’re educating the next generation of theatergoers.”  

She added how much the actors respond to performing for younger audiences, meeting them after the show “so the experience doesn’t end with the end of the show and the children can see that the actors are real people, not just images on a screen. They let you know immediately when they’re having a good time.” 


The Emperor’s New Clothes 

Active Arts for Young Audiences 

weekends through April 20 

Julia Morgan Center on College Ave.  

Tickets: $14 for children, $18 for adults. 

(925) 798-1300