Synopsis & Songs
lyrics & 7 song audios
[Click song titles for full lyrics. Audio tracks indicated by + AUDIO]
A bizarre little empire. Gaudy fashions and empty conversations (“Chit Chat Chit Chat”). Strict conformity among the Courtiers. They complain of a vague feeling (“Something’s Missing”). Mundo the Fool disrupts, as usual, with jabs and barbs at the Courtiers, who rebuke him as a "Fool! Fool! Fool!" To deflect from Mundo, the Prime Minister Lord Shallot (pronounced SHALL-oh) is prodded by his dominating wife Ladyship to remind everyone of their Plan for the empire. Just a Plan, nothing more, no details. The Courtiers praise the empty “Plan! Plan! Plan!”
Princess Eldora, the Emperor’s beautiful daughter, quickly rejects three Princes seeking to marry her. She laments having to wait and wait (“Wait, Must I Wait”) for just the right Prince. But who could he be?
Mundo the Fool proudly boasts of his role as an outcast, claiming that he uncovers the ugly truth that everyone avoids with lies and pretenses
(“A Fool Am I” + AUDIO).
The despondent Emperor is awakened by his friend and confidante, the pesky Mundo (“So Opposite We Are”). Amused by Mundo, the Emperor offers his flighty, squeaky, bastard daughter Espi to be Mundo’s wife. Once alone, Mundo shows he is insulted by Espi's low status, rejects her as a mate, and declares he is more than just a fool (“I Am a Fool, and No Damn Fool!” + AUDIO).
As traveling fashion designer Mach ( pronounced MAHK) and his helpers Potts and Pitts approach the empire. His helpers worry that Mach’s con game will not work. Mach reassures them, explaining all the things people believe in that they can't see (“What They Can’t See”). At court, Mach tantalizes the Emperor and all the Courtiers that a fabulous new outfit for the Emperor will bring “something more.” But, Mach adds, only fools can’t see it. He whips out a mere thread (pantomime). Everyone squints, then gushes that it’s extraordinarily beautiful – except Mundo: “There’s nothing there but empty air!” The Courtiers hiss in scorn: “Fool! Fool! Fool!” (“Something More”). Suddenly, the distraught Emperor can no longer trust Mundo and orders the new clothes.
Mundo now realizes that all the Courtiers are the fools and he alone is not. Still insulted by Espi as a wife, he vows to seduce the Emperor's favorite, Princess Eldora. But how to seduce a Princess? By faking it and declaring True Love for her (“I Am a Fool, and No Damn Fool!”)
The Empress, miffed that she gets nothing from the Emperor, stays in her bedchamber and vows to bring him naked to his knees before her (“I Am Woman”).
Mundo flirts with all the female Courtiers and denounces marriage (“One Man One Woman”). But he follows after Eldora and, pursuing his trick, tells her that True Love comes out of nothing, just by saying so. Eldora joins in the fantasy (“Out of Nothing” + AUDIO) —then runs off, fleeing from Mundo.
The Courtiers dance a bizarre, polite minuet ("Nicely, Nicely"). Ladyship explains her approach to leadership, to avoid extremes and stick to the middle, while Lord Shallot echoes her (“I Much Prefer Grey” + AUDIO).
To avoid marriage to the bastard daughter Espi, Mundo tells her that the ver-r-r-ry slo-o-o-ow Professor Kunkel secretly loves her. A few minutes later, he tells Kunkel that Espi secretly loves him. Espi and Kunkel meet in the Weaving Room. Espi takes from Mach an invisible sash, and she and Kunkel dance with it (pantomimed) and sing a duet, Kunkel at half the speed of Espi. They fall completely in love (“Sometimes a Man / Sometimes a Woman”).
Mach and his assistants Potts and Pitts wait in the Weaving Room for the Courtiers to arrive and see the progress on the cloth (“Rose, Jade, Blue, Marmalade”). The Courtiers arrive, look, leave quickly, and sing how magnificent a cloth it was that they had (not) just seen (“The Fabric of Our Lives / Out of Nothing” reprise + AUDIO), while Mundo and Eldora peer knowingly at each other from opposite sides of the stage.
Each Courtier is caught up with intruding doubts about why he or she can’t see the cloth, and why they don’t say so. The Emperor and entourage suddenly enter, and they snap to conformity (“Alone / Little Silences / Everything's Fine").
Professor Kunkel uses logic to conclude that he will have a great relationship with Espi (“A, B, Ergo” + AUDIO). But later, Mundo suggests to Espi that Kunkel has been flirting with other females, sending an angry Espi to confront Kunkel. They spat and can’t reconcile.
After Eldora rebuffs Mundo’s continuing approaches to her (“Fondle and Play,” “Out of Nothing” reprise), she wonders what her real feelings are and relents. She demands that Mundo speak the truth to her. Mundo confesses to her that his “True Love” was all a fake. Realizing now his own true feelings, he falls to his knees, crushed by his deception. But Eldora stands strong, draws him up, and they declare their love (“Touch Me Now Evermore” + AUDIO).
The Courtiers hold oversized masks on sticks reflecting each character's face grotesquely enlarged. The Emperor moves through the Courtiers, who bow stiffly. Then Mach's helper Pitts walks through, and the Courtiers all move away from him ("The Mask Dance" instrumental). Responding to Pitts, the Emperor laments his role, which has become a mask he is forced to wear.
Lord Shallot takes Espi and Kunkel to the office window labeled "The Plan" to resolve their spat. After meaningless language from the Plan by a chanting Bureaucrat, Kunkel boldly rejects it, Espi is impressed, and they reconcile (“The Plan”).
Eldora finally expresses her feelings to her mother, the Empress, (“I’m Afraid I’m a Fool in Love” + AUDIO). The Empress never questions the invisibility of the Emperor's new clothes, but urges Eldora to listen to the voice inside her.
Ladyship overhears Mach boasting of his con game and confronts him, declaring that his clothes for the Emperor are lies and nothing. Mach retorts that Ladyship’s empire and the Plan are the same kind of lies, consisting of nothing. They are partners in deception, Mach says. Ladyship reluctantly concedes to maintain her grip on empire (“Lip Service Tango”).
The Emperor goes to the Empress in her bedchamber and confesses that he cannot see the clothes (“I Cannot See It”). The Empress urges him to fake that he sees it, over and over again, until he believes his fakery is true—as everybody does.
As the half-naked Emperor is “dressed” by Mach, Potts, and Pitts in his new outfit (pantomimed), he searches to find something to believe in, to listen to the distant voice he hears inside him (“Hidden Corners of the Heart” + AUDIO). He concludes that his duty as Emperor is to uphold convention and join a public procession to display his new outfit.
Mundo and Eldora decide they must leave the empire, perhaps to return someday. Watching Eldora and Mundo run off, the Emperor sinks to his knees under his deep loss and burdensome role. But the Empress in glorious attire comes in, views the half-naked Emperor, and pronounces him “gorgeous!” She helps him up and grandly escorts him in final procession with all the Courtiers ("Finale: The Fabric of Our Lives" "Out of Nothing" reprise). As they depart, Mundo draws Eldora back in. Alone, they twirl around and kiss.