The Emperor's New Clothes
Wild Rice/ Drama Centre/ Nov 21
The Emperor's New Clothes will have you in stitches with the cut of its costumes and wit.
Wild Rice's annual pantomimes perfectly illustrate the difference between productions tailor-made for the audience versus mass-market entertainment of a fashion which is trendy, easy to market, pleasing to the eye but often employs fabric not entirely suited to the climate. As always, here is family entertainment designed for Singaporean audiences, incorporating some of the Western traditions of the genre. Familiar storyline full of in-jokes, check: a narcissistic emperor Henry Lim Bay Kun (a delightful Lim Kay Siu) blows the national budget on an annual fashion parade and air-conditions his tropical city-state so he can enjoy wearing clothes for cooler climates.
Audience participation, check, via Andrew Lua, Siti Khalijah Zainal and Benjamin Wong, who play yes-ministers and also instruments to lead the guffawing crowd in claps and cheers. And of course, a host of adorable child actors from the troupe's First Stage! training programme, whose natural enthusiasm and acrobatics compete for the spotlight with the first-rate production values.
Apart from a few glitches where mikes cut out unexpectedly on Saturday, there is little to fault and much to enjoy in this production. Appropriate for the theme of the story, surreal costumes from Tube Gallery by Phisit & Saxit delight even the most fevered fashionista with a frenzy of frills, frou-frou, tutus, neck-ruffs and even space-boots, Roman breastplates, and spangled gold-and-green baju melayu.
Eucien Chia's sets alternate a fish-eye view of skyscrapers with lavish imperial suites; Julian Wong's music ranges from hummable to goosebump-beautiful when Benjamin Kheng and pop star Sezairi - in his first but hopefully not last role in musical theatre role - dance and duet. Their musical and stage harmony makes for a brilliant bromance as two tailors who sew the emperor up a conscience.
Every single cast member is superb, from major roles - Audrey Luo plays on heartstrings and funnybones as the forgotten and forlorn empress - to bit parts that leave big impressions. Young Anne-Sophie Cazaubon's exquisite violin and vocal solo augurs well for the future of musicals here, while Candice De Rozario switches neatly and side-splittingly between composer Arpeggio Chong and TV presenter Zizi Zizzy Nak Zizzy, whose beehive-and-camera hairdo comes straight from The Hunger Games movies.
The big reveal of The Emperor's New Clothes is true to the traditional story where it takes a child to point out that the ruler, lost in the furbelows of fashion, is no longer seeing himself clearly. More than once, director Pam Oei gets the child actors to play younger versions of the main characters on stage, in a poignant lesson for the adults both in the production and watching it. They remind emperor and empress of a time when they were not bound by the trappings of glory, they also remind the tailors that their cunning plan must be about justice, not vengeance or retribution.
Pantomime, in the best traditions of comedy, reflects our flaws and quirks in a mirror that strips away illusions, allows viewers to laugh and also to privately reflect about improvement. Along with slapstick routines that on Saturday had the child behind me kicking my seat in glee, there are jibes here at highly paid ministers and also a subtle, powerful play on the relationship between politics and art.
In this pantomime, an autocrat unable to hear any voice other than his own is finally brought to his senses by music piercing through the artificial silence he ridiculously imposed. He can no longer stopper his ears because his people will not stop playing and singing - and asking him to join in, as he used to. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this pantomime is its understanding that removing an emperor's wardrobe is not enough. Something better must be returned to replace it.
Book it/The Emperor's New Clothes
WHERE: Drama Centre, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street
WHEN: Until Dec 12, 2.30pm on Thursdays and weekends, 7.30pm Tuesdays to Saturdays. No shows on Mondays
ADMISSION: $45 to $80 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)