SALT LAKE CITY — Japanese lanterns, cherry blossoms and brightly colored floors and walls welcomed the audience into the small, surround seating at the Children’s Theater in Salt Lake. The theater also came with the buzz of surround sound as children excitedly chattered in their seats. Surprisingly, however, the audience quieted down as the director welcomed the crowd and hailed the opening of their latest show, The Emperor’s New Clothes.
The theater took a unique spin on the classic tale of a vain Emperor, obsessed with his clothes and appearance. Instead of attending to the affairs of the kingdom, the Emperor busies himself with nothing but his wardrobe. One day two traveling tailors make a stop in the royal hall to offer the Emperor a most extraordinary gift: a robe made of a magnificent material, one which can only be seen by the eyes of those worthy of their positions. The new robe sets the court in an uproar and teaches them all a hard-learned lesson.
Director Joseph Kyle Rogan chose to set the play in ancient Japan using the art form of Kabuki, a classical Japanese dance-drama. Sound effects from instruments on the stage helped emphasize crucial points in the play. From before the show begins to the time you leave the theater, the audience is completely involved in the play. Actors occasionally hold up signs for the audience to call out Japanese phrases commonly used by native audiences, and interact with the audience members.
This focus on a different culture features another aspect of the theater’s motto: to help educate audience members. The show portrayed a time when women were perceived as inferior and rank was the most important factor in every decision, yet in the end it took the eyes of the “most inferior” to see the truth. The show also aims to teach children proper theater behavior. Sound effects, such as a gong or bird whistling, as well as the actors’ dramatic facial expressions helped the children in the audience understand the plot and how to react.
True to its name, the theater not only aims its shows at children, but features child actors as well. Young actress Sarrah Cassel played the daughter of the Emperor’s general, while Isabella Zamora portrayed her “unworthy” younger cousin, Mikulu. It was impressive to see that the young actresses not only remembered all of their lines and helped with the background music, but they stayed in character during the entire performance.
The other actors used dramatic, overly emphasized expressions to convey their point, as sometimes the words were not enough. Matthew Windham, who played the Emperor’s head of wardrobe, Haiton, perfectly portrayed this point as he pranced around the stage looking for the Emperor’s robe. Jacob McCrory played the petty and very prissy Emperor. His adoring gaze as he looked at himself in the glass and quivering lip as he considered his own worthiness for his position were all right in line with his somewhat simple-minded character.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is a great show for the family and a good way to introduce children to the wonderful, unique and diverse world of theater. It also stands as a good reminder to step back and take a look at the world through the eyes of a child.