The Emperor's Groovy New Clothes | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Emperor's Groovy New Clothes

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The Emperor's Groovy New Clothes, Lifeline Theatre. In the original Hans Christian Andersen story, an emperor renowned for his vanity and fashion sense is tricked into modeling an ensemble made of (imaginary) cloth "visible only to those with intelligence and good taste." Naturally no one will admit he or she can't see it, so the emperor parades au naturel before his uncomfortable subjects until a child--the only one unaffected by this mass egotism--points out that, hey, the emperor is naked!

This tale suits our own celebrity-following, fashion-crazed times well. While adapter Frances Limoncelli's setting is pure fairy-tale (with Technicolor sets by Ryan McKinty-Trupp), the characters' behavior reeks of modern America. Picture parents too preoccupied with work, taxes, and shopping to talk to their children. Or a fashion-mongering mother-daughter team (played by Nancy Jane Nelson and a wide-mouthed puppet) spewing opinions on the E! (Emperor) network. Also, by reconfiguring the story around the child (Amanda Putman) and other supporting characters, Limoncelli casts a more revealing light on the insecurities that drive people to a herd mentality.

The players are adorable, especially Putman and Shole Milos as the young Elvis-like emperor. But that and psychological astuteness aside, the real stars of the show are Elizabeth Shaffer's costumes. Never have so many colors been jammed into a single outfit, and who'd have thought of turning Malibu Barbie into a hat? So fashion forward.

--Kim Wilson

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