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A Bit of Sunny, Wrinkle-Free Fun

June 11, 1996|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — Hey, beach bums. Want to experience the giddiness of a day in the surf without packing pounds of wet sand in your shorts? The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theater's new version of "The Emperor's New Clothes" might be for you.

Adapted by Tim Dey and Bree Burgess (the Laguna duo whose credits include 1995's "Lagunatics" lampoon of life in this beach community), "Emperor" is an off-kilter take on Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale; it's as easy on the brain as the pulp novel Mom hides in her beach bag. It's also a whole lot more fun, and there aren't any racy parts you have to hide from the kids.

The action is set "in the Land of Ostentasia . . . along the Nuveau Coast," where the foolhardy emperor is staging the V 1/2 Summer Games, held every half decade or so to showcase Ostentasia's best and brightest.

But unlike the Olympics, the focus of these games is sartorial: The V 1/2 teams (four teams of two, plus one team of three equals five and a half teams, get it?) are made up of the land's finest tailors who jostle for the emperor's favor and a juicy cash prize of five and a half million dollars (are you seeing a trend here?).

To drive home the show's farcical nature, Bree and Dey created dialogue for the royal windbag that is pure gibberish: snatches of popular tunes, advertising catch phrases, even the occasional line from Shakespeare spill from his lips in place of conversation. When his daughter, the Princess Pretencia, is distraught over her father's refusal to let her date handsome lifeguard Dune, daddy soothes her with the wisdom of Barney: "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family." It's not Dr. Dobson, but it gets a good laugh.

Actually, the emperor's verbal drivel gets tiring after a while, and a lot of the pop references will soar right over kids' heads (how many 8-year-olds know the lyrics to "What's New, Pussycat?"). It would have been nice if Dey and Burgess had been more sparing in this department, but in this show, excess is king. Everything is over the top, inspired by the emperor's raging bad taste in clothes and his subjects' wholesale acceptance thereof. Somewhere in all this there's a message about accepting people for who they are instead of how they look, but it's window dressing.

Youth Theater director Joe Lauderdale gets things rolling with a pre-show "beach party." About half an hour before curtain, members of the audience are invited to join the cast on stage and in the aisles, tossing beach balls, spinning hula hoops and dancing the limbo to the strains of classic beach tunes.

Dozens of kids gladly took up the offer at Saturday night's performance. The playtime loosened up the crowd but made it hard for younger children to make the transition from player to viewer. (This may be part of the reason that theater management asks that children under 4 not attend). Also, some of the less-experienced members of the 26-member cast had difficulty regaining the audience's attention at the start of the show, making for a muddy opening scene.

Fortunately, the writers have given us an able guide in Hawk, seller of souvenirs and philosopher for the common man. Teenager Patricia Francisco's Hawk is nicely defined, helping newcomers on stage and in the audience to make sense of the often confusing Games.

(It's a good thing this character is so clear-cut, because if we had to rely solely on the rhyming introductions of tap-dancing Patty Paige [she's the court page, get it, har har?] to keep track of things, we'd really be in a mess--although sprightly Tarla Cummings tackles the role with glee).

Adults Terry Christoper, Meghan Marshall and Mike Tryon play a trio of escaped convicts (love those vertical stripes) who sign on as the games' V 1/2th tailoring team, dubbing themselves the Fresh Prints of Bell Air. Their duping of the emperor and his toadies Cursive and Buck (played with ample sniveling by Michael Proppe and Zachary Prince) is played with more silliness than subversiveness.

Gordon Yeaton, decked out in costume designer Dwight Richard Odle's wildly mismatched ensembles, cuts an outlandish figure as the emperor. His character's nonsensical dialogue and pigheadedness hem him into a one-note delivery but Yeaton goes along with it all quite gamely. After all, it's all in the name of summer fun.

* "The Emperor's New Clothes," the Moulton Theater, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. (714) 497-2787. Running time: two hours.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

(The Emperor's New Clothes)

Gordon Yeaton: Emperor

Allesandra Stewart: Princess Pretencia

Zachary Prince: Buck

Michael Proppe: Cursive

Tarla Cummings: Patty Paige

Patricia Francisco: Hawk

Josh Hertz: Dune

Terry Christopher: Snooker

Meghan Marshall: Raz

Mike Tryon: Bluff

A Laguna Playhouse Youth Theater production, adapted by Tim Dey and Bree Burgess from the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, directed by Joe Lauderdale. Costumes: Dwight Richard Odle. Sets and lighting: Don Gruber. Sound: David Edwards. Stage manager: Marc Ravenhill.

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