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Fairy-tale switch doesn't wear as well

The Falcon Theatre children's musical 'The Empress and Her New Clothes' is an ungainly alteration.

April 14, 2006|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

AN empress with a yen for fashion design travels incognito to Paris as a finalist in a "Passion for Fashion" contest. Will she trump the competition with her MGM musical-inspired designs, or will she fall for the old "invisible" fabric trick?

With echoes of Bravo's "Project Runway" reality show, the Falcon Theatre's latest musical offering for children, "The Empress and Her New Clothes," spins a familiar fairy tale into an uneven romp needing ample restitching but lands laughs nonetheless.

The gaping hole in co-lyricists Lori Marshall and Joseph Leo Bwarie's script is that the fairy tale's basic premise -- foolish emperor undone by vanity -- is such a poor fit. Here Empress Genevieve, no fool, is the strong heroine of the piece, driven to prove herself capable of being more than a royal figurehead.

Her goal, repeated often during the show, is to do all of her own design work, or else -- win or lose -- she will consider herself a failure.

Yet at the eleventh hour, the determined empress (sweet-voiced Selah Victor) is easily persuaded by sneaky competitor Alexis (Christine Lakin) to use nonexistent fabric that it seems is invisible only to the unstylish. Leave all the sewing to me, Alexis says, and Genevieve, an instant airhead, agrees, skipping off for a date with third contestant Giorgino (musical stage veteran Brad DeLima).

Not surprisingly, the happy ending, with an obligatory nod to "being true to yourself," feels glib and tacked-on.

So aside from lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick's usual smooth illuminations and Rachael Lawrence's pleasant if unmemorable pop arrangements, what works?

Bwarie's fleet-footed direction and choreography, the adept adult professional cast, colorful touches from costume designer Lou Carranza and a large supply of sight gags, satiric bits and comic asides.

A sampling: Malibu rich girl Alexis' accessory, a la Paris Hilton, is a teeny, real Chihuahua named Versace, with nearly as many costume changes as contest sponsor Madame Mauve (Beth Kennedy).

Kennedy, a Troubadour Theatre Company regular, is a scene-stealing hoot: She's so chic she wears outfit-matching gloves, even when in jammies.

Tom Hines, in a Ted Koppel-styled toupee, offers a wicked turn as a self-absorbed reporter with news anchor aspirations.

Still, this divertissement could be a better fit. Marshall and Bwarie, who, with Lawrence, have teamed in the past to create some of the Falcon's most entertaining children's shows, should get out their needle and thread for some judicious retailoring.


`The Empress and Her New Clothes'

Where: Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank

When: 1 and 3 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays

Ends: May 28

Price: $10 (12 and younger) and $12

Contact: (818) 955-8101,

Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

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