Do you believe in something because everyone says it’s so? Are you so afraid of being looked upon as a fool so much that you lie to yourself? Are you confident in your role in life? Do you believe in yourself? Take the fool-or-not test in this adaption of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” at the Cape Cod Theatre Company, Harwich Junior Theatre. on Division Street in West Harwich.
The Theater has been a major player in fine productions for nearly 70 years, from which the Wheelock Family founders emerged. The Hans Christian Anderson tale got a makeover from a trio of that HJT/Wheelock family – James P. Byrne (adaptation), Jane Staab (music) and Tony Hancock (lyrics) – which premiered at Wheelock and is now on the CCTC stage. What a treat.
As the HJT Jester explains, this story is told in the old theater form called commedia dell’arte, an improvised kind of comedy popular in Italy in the 16th century. Commedia dell’arte relies on masked stock characters such as a villain, hero and narrators. In this production it works delightfully, especially thanks to the villainous Signore Pantalone (Emily Murray) and his sidekick Capitano (Grace Barrett), the magical duo Arlechinno and Perdina (Gracie O’Leary and Audrey Pugh) and the fabulous costumes and make-up. (Karen Stewart proved to be an informative consultant on commedia dell’arte.)
The weavers in this small town are struggling to survive because of the evil Pantalone who swindles them again and again. The village is ruled by an extremely pliable and passive Emperor (Edward Donovan). Pantalone uses the Emperor’s wimpy behavior to his advantage much to the dismay of the Empress (Rachel Barnes) and the Princess Isabella (Julia DiPreta). Did I mention the Emperor’s passion for fine clothing? As if in an answer to a prayer, enter Arlechinno and Perdina, two impish characters who scheme to expose Pantalone and rescue the weavers with a diabolically clever plan. “Wouldn’t the Emperor love to own a set of clothing that can only be seen by those worthy of their position?” they ask. And those who are unfit would see nothing! Pantalone’s look of panic at the existence of such a cloth is as priceless as the Emperor’s look of glee.
Director Byrne has assembled an excellent cast to enact this tale on his detailed, excellently lighted set design. Claude Danner’s outstanding costume designs recall a bygone era and are magical. We loved Arlechinno and Perdina’s jester-like costumes, especially with the glitter and the bells. This is a jester-filled play; the Zannis (Rory Shortis, Jemma Meadows, Xevi Pina Parker, Sage Barnes, Lila Keeney, Harry Cramer and Elisabeth Dupuy) look like jesters as they move the story along with effective sound effects and more. Loved them!
The expressive Murray slinks around and is downright dastardly as Pantalone, and Barrett is hilarious strutting up and down as the heavily mustached Capitano. Speaking of strutting, Donovan parades with great effect in his new clothes. A luminous DiPetra as the princess sings delightfully and is a voice of reason in all the silliness. The actors who played the weavers and their families (Shiloh Pabst, Erin O’Sullivan, Colin Bourget, Tallulah Clifford, Lucy Mae Wise, Ashlynn Nee, Kevin Bourget and Sophia Hennessey) were all noteworthy dealing with all that goes on around them. As the ones behind all the shenanigans, O’Leary and Pugh were fabulous; they were constantly in-sync and incorrigibly enchanting.
Glenn Starner-Tate’s musical direction and keyboard playing was right on the money, and J Hagenbuckle’s sound design worked too. Adding to the pomp and glam of the production behind the scenes are CCTC’s technical director Matt Kohler, his assistant Jack Coughlin, props mistress Marybeth Travis, make-up artist Grace Fernandes, production stage manager Kate Paxton, light board operator Tess O’Leary, and sound board operator Abby Feinstein. It’s worth noting that most of these folks are at each and every performance and are as pivotal to the overall richness of the show as the fine actors onstage. And it’s a great show.
At a little over 90 minutes with an intermission, the whole family will delight in both the antics and the message it imparts.
"The Emperor’s New Clothes"
Through Aug. 26, Tuesdays to Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays to Sundays at 4 p.m.
Information and reservations: 508-432-2002 ext. 2, www.capecodtheatrecompany.org