Like the classic folktale, our premise is absurd: A con game to make for the Emperor a fabulous new outfit "that only fools can't see." To help suspend disbelief, this musical remake is outlandish in all ways: costume, makeup, acting style, and plot twists -- which allows us to satirize modern society with no specific, identifiable target.
The classic folktale gets newly outfitted with:
Mundo the Fool, who throws insults and jabs at all the fashion-conscious Courtiers. He personifies what they all most dread, to be seen as a fool. Yet Mundo speaks the truth – "There's nothing there but empty air" – to which the Courtiers respond "Fool! Fool! Fool!" and gush praise for something none of them can actually see.
The Imperial Courtiers (the chorus) who gossip, strut, and preen in gaudy, faux-high-fashion costumes. They move, speak, and sing in tight synchrony, displaying the conformity that dominates in this empire.
The beautiful Princess Eldora, the Emperor's favorite daughter, who Mundo decides to seduce in revenge. But how? Declare True Love for her and fake it.
Other characters: The sad emperor; the insulted empress; the pompous prime minister; his dominating wife; the high-fashion traveling designer with a con game; the ve-e-e-ery slo-o-o-ow professor; the emperor's squeaky bastard daughter. They dominate, submit, lament, boast, conspire, revolt – and fall in love on a whim.
Nothingness is everywhere. No topic or thought, not even "The Plan," has any substance to it.
Satire: Social conformity, baseless beliefs, and their manipulation by higher-ups.
Music: Melodies accessible to a general audience, including a beautiful love song and inspiring 11 o'clock number, all fitting the dramatic action and advancing the plot, with rhythms and harmonies from around the world.
Farce The show is a fast-paced farce with three male-female couples in romantic distress – Emperor and Empress, Fool and Princess, Professor and Emperor's Bastard Daughter – and the male-male friendship of Emperor and Fool. Their subplots all interweave and unfold in comic, romantic, and tragic ways. Good character roles for everyone, including the Courtiers/chorus, whose substantial job is to move, sing, and speak frequently and in tight synchrony.
Multiracial casting Is fine, if done with sensitivity. Mundo the Fool would be great played by an African-American or other dark-skinned person. He aims to seduce Princess Eldora, who could easily be Asian, white, or light-skinned, to set a strong challenge to their ultimate falling-in-love.
Other multiracial casting needs to be sensitive to how conflicts between characters might be perceived.
Costumes Over-the-top, colorful, gaudy costumes should be a primary visual feature. Shoestring budget: Actors could design their own far-out costumes following a few rules of color and style. Modern dress: Certainly possible, if slick and embellished with colorful accents.
Makeup Exaggerated and stylized makeup fits perfectly with the musical's overdrawn characters and is the easiest, cheapest way to give the show a distinctive appearance. Go to Characters & Images for costume, makeup, and character images to inspire, not copy. For multiracial casting, all characters need the same level of exaggerated makeup. But light-skinned actors need dark makeup, dark-skinned actors need light makeup, and medium skins can have both.
Acting Style Exaggerated gesture, movement, and expression harken back to the comic acting style in Commedia dell’Arte, the first secular theatre, which began in Renaissance Italy and became popular throughout Europe for centuries. The style has been used recently in Disney's Broadway musical "The Lion King."
Sets Ideally, sets would be elaborate and very stylized. But shoestring is fine.
Shoestring budget To keep production costs down, minimal, movable set pieces can be used, perhaps in black-and-white or pastel colors in a cartoon or surrealist style, standing in contrast to brightly colored costumes. Since costume is primary, sets are not even required, and theatre-in-the-round works well.
Action takes place in the central court with a throne, on two ornate beds, in palace hallways, in a weaving room with a giant loom, in a Love Garden with a giant Love Goddess statue, and at a bureaucrat’s office window labeled “The Plan.” A few columns might be sufficient to demarcate the court and palace hallways.
Nudity The Emperor’s state of disrobe at the end should avoid full nudity as too distracting. Avoid pink long underwear. More befitting would be for the Emperor to appear near-naked in a nylon-spandex, black boxer-brief, shrouded by down-lighting.
Cast & Cast Size Principal characters: 5 males, 4 females, both young and older. Good character roles for most actors, even the Courtiers (chorus), who always move, speak, and sing frequently in tight synchrony.
The ideal cast size would be 16 actors, giving a chorus of eight with a few doublings for bit parts. A cast of 12 or 14 actors is workable, with a chorus as small as four supplemented by some of the character actors singing choral parts. A 10-actor script has been written, with doubling for the chorus by most of the character actors.
Run time Approximately two hours fifteen minutes, confirmed by readings.
Previous readings and performances Two readings, one of each act, were done at the Boston Playwrights Platform in 2014. In August 2017, a 50-minute version was performed for a full week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with high school actors.
Script Go to Full Script page.