The Emperor’s New Clothes

Trent Tyson, Noah Gallego & Trevor Bowler perform at Mesa Arts Center with East Valley Children's Theatre

Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is one of many treasures, past and present, to originate in Denmark.

Recently I enjoyed a children’s musical based on this classic fairy tale, which reminded me of the two reasons I never tire of live performance art.

It allows us to forget while inspiring us to remember.

Famous Danes include philosopher Soren Kierkegaard

Decades old scrapbooks from my own college adventures include several photos taken during Scandinavian travels — which were especially meaningful given my study of existentialists like Soren Kierkegaard and my Norwegian heritage.

One of my favorite photos depicts a simple statue of Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” — which captured my heart long before Disney debuted its marvelous musical based on the timeless tale.

I was adopted as an infant, but know that my biological father was studying architecture in college — which piques my interest in famous Danish architects like Jorn Utzon, the 20th century architect behind the stunning Sydney Opera House in Australia (whose life and times may well be worthy of their own homage a la musical theater).

Sydney Opera House features design by Danish architect Jorn Utzon

I was delighted when fellow stage mom Carolyn McBurney mentioned she was directing “The Emperor’s New Clothes” for East Valley Children’s Theatre — which features book by Karen Boettcher-Tate and music by Bill Francoeur.

McBurney has a degree in “theatre, English, and history” and worked post-college as both actress and director. She recently earned an AriZoni nomination for her performance in “Phaedre” with Nearly Naked Theatre (also known by the tamer “n2t”) — which specializes in “mature audience” only productions.

McBurney also is well known in the Valley for two decades of marketing and community relations craft in the television industry.

I’m more familiar with the work of her daughter, Robyn McBurney, who recently performed in ASA’s production of “Lucky Stiff” and served as assistant director alongside faculty director Toby Yatso, an associate artist with Phoenix Theatre. She also performs with ASA’s “Glee Choir.”

Statue of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen

I went to see “The Emperor’s New Clothes” Friday evening at the Mesa Arts Center, where I recently enjoyed “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” performed by Mesa Encore Theatre, another of the MAC’s many resident companies (there’s also Ballet Etudes, Southwest Shakespeare Company and more).

But I was shocked, appalled really, by what I saw there. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was a funny, spirited show with a cast long on talent, enthusiasm and elbow grease. That was no surprise. But there were far too many empty seats for a production of this quality — which leaves me wondering what everyone else was up to that night.

Earlier that day I heard a television news report noting that American children spend 900 hours a year in the classroom, compared to 1,500 hours a year watching TV. Am I the only one who thinks our kids might need more time in better schools, and more enriching options for evenings and weekends?

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being performed through Oct 17 in Mesa (which is convenient for just about everyone thanks to oodles of newer freeways). If you’re a parent, it’s a good weekend to “lose” the remote control. If you’re a teacher, it’s a good time to trade pencil and paper homework assignments for live performance art.

I sat in the second row Friday night, right behind two moms who’d brought their very young daughters (with blankets) along to see the show. The little girls were beaming afterwards when the large cast formed a long line in the lobby to meet and greet guests of all ages.

Plenty of adults enjoyed and laughed at this production (I was among them) — but next weekend I hope they’ll have a full house for every show, complete with lots of elementary age children for whom this is the perfect material.

The sets and costumes are bright and colorful with wonderful detail, the music and choreography are simple yet charming, and the acting is among the best I have seen in local youth theater. (And yes, there’s a terrific director in the mix.)

"The Little Mermaid" sculpture in Copenhagen

After the show, I spent some time reading through the program and enjoying the bios of talented actors including Rebecca Arias (Empress), Trevor Bowler (Wart), Jonah Carlson (Aaron the Minstrel), Raini Hawkins (Old Person), Trent Tyson (Hog) and Alexi Vogel (Small Child).

Noah Gallego, a 9th grader at Hamilton Prep in Chandler, performs the lead. Gallego’s preening and pouty “Emperor Plumptoe” is the hypochondriacal, fashion-obsessed ruler who eventually endures a musical mocking titled “The Man in the Underpants” thanks to his out of control ego and spending habits.

East Valley Children’s Theatre’s production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is an enchanted take on Andersen’s fairy tale with a modern twist that’s spot on for the mall- and media-obsessed of all ages. Take your children — even those who’ve outgrown their blankets — and enjoy an hour of frolicking good fun together.

Before you know it, they’ll be college bound and off on their own world travels…

–Lynn

Note: Another remarkable Danish artist, artistic director Ib Andersen of Ballet Arizona, creates art in many mediums right here in the Valley. To enjoy another adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s work, attend an upcoming performance of “Snow Queen” presented by Center Dance Ensemble.

Coming up: A review of “The Color Purple,” being performed this week at Mesa Arts Center and the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix

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