WHAT TO WEAR? The Emperor has a decision to make.
Emperor Fredrick (Andrew Ostrow) has a wardrobe problem: The "commonness" of his fabrics makes Empress Sophie (Michela Micalizio) cringe, and his people turn away from his speeches with disappointment and disdain for his duds. He is, in brief, "in dire need of an image makeover." Enter Anna (Claire Devlin) and Karl (Odie DeSmith), a couple of bohemian swindlers between jobs. They proceed to sell the vain ruler and his fawning staff on an impossibly exclusive new textile. Thus the timeless morality tale of The Emperor's New Clothes, in a marvelously savvy adaptation by local thespian Michele Livermore Wigton. Acted with verve by local young people and directed by Reba Short, it plays in repertory with Cinderella at the Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine.
This utterly exclusive fabric, says Anna, cannot be seen by anyone who is either stupid or unfit for their position. Sounds good to the Emperor and Empress. These rulers reign with high frivolity, and Ostrow and Micalizio go all out to flounce their ridiculousness. Lanky, loose-limbed Ostrow beams and struts obliviously, while Micalizio does intimidating things with her eyes, shooting servants and peasants gazes of smoldering vehemence. They also look super — Micalizio wears an elaborate blue gown and Marie Antoinette wig; Ostrow has a series of outfits, and looks particularly fine when he goes "incognito" in leopard-print chiffon and huge shades.
Their staff are also hilariously drawn characters, and quite a hoot to behold. Sheena Greaves as Theodore the one-upped tailor is wry and sullen; Lucy Tabb's chief of staff, Stefan, is all flutter and worry; and Hans the beleaguered speechwriter is nervously timid in the hands of Jane Rooks.
And as the con-man and con-woman, Devlin and DeSmith are a treat. Karl, endearingly dopey, plays perfectly against steel-trap Anna, the lovely brains of the operation. It's particularly fun to watch Anna's deadpan fooling with the Emperor and his lackeys as she has them "admire" baskets of "cloth." Also insightful are the reactions that each character registers when first realizing that they cannot see the fabric, and that they must consequently be unsuited to their jobs. Each actor sensitively and subtly expresses shame at such a revelation.
The great acting is accompanied by some delicious little musical flourishes. When we first meet our schemers, out of work and listless, Karl is playing the blues: "Breakfast time has come and gone." There's also a great interlude in which two spoken riffs are repeated and interwoven: As chief of staff Stefan makes his way home from the weavers, having just "seen" the fabric, he desperately tries to memorize the "colors" he'll relate to the Emperor: "Azure blue, lemon yellow, but not weak; vermillion . . ." At the same time, Anna starts divvying up the gold: "One for me and one for you; one for me and one for you . . ."
The production is also wittily of the moment. Fearing for his job and public opinion, speechwriter Hans conducts a survey of the peasants. In plying their "fabric," Anna and Karl present the doubtful Hans with a card and an infomercial. The script also gets in some satisfying allusive digs at Bernie Madoff (the sharks behind whom, we are to understand, were these very "weavers").