The Emperor’s New Clothes: A Treat For All Ages

W!LD RICE wraps up its ImagiNATION season with The Emperor’s New Clothes starring Lim Kay Siu, Benjamin Kheng and Sezairi Sezali.

Pantomimes are always fun to watch, especially a W!LD RICE’s production. Directed by Pam Oei, The Emperor’s New Clothes is W!LD RICE’s fourth and final production under its 15th anniversary theme; ‘ImagiNATION’.

The Emperor's New Clothes by W!LD RICE pic 1

PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

Enter the dystopian yet colourful kingdom ruled by Emperor Henry Lim Bay Kun. Emperor LBK is one egoistic, narcissistic ruler and has sanctioned the 49th NDP (National Day Parade New Dress Parade) in celebration of his good rule and well, new dress.

The music is playing and the little cheerleaders (First Kids!) are putting out their best performance for the Emperor. We didn’t have to wait too long to see the eye candies; Khairul No Surname (Singapore Idol’s Sezairi Sezali) and Nathan No Surname (Benjamin Kheng from The Sam Willows) on stage. They are the orphan-turned-tailors behind the cheerleaders’ costumes.

Our Emperor (Lim Kay Siu) makes his appearance, all bald and pompous. Much like our own NDP, the New Dress Parade also features performances by the children depicting how Emperor LBK brought the fishing village from ‘third world to first’ (sounds familiar?) and saved the country from the tyranny of an evil villain quite literally by the sound of music.

The Emperor's New Clothes by W!LD RICE pic 5

PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

Midway into the NDP, a child performer (Anne-Sophie Cazaubon) performs a violin and vocal solo, drawing the applause from everyone, except the emperor who thought that she was “stealing my thunder”. She was imprisoned for ‘possession of drugs’.

Right after the 49th NDP performance, the emperor calls for his ministers to begin preparations for next year’s 50th Golden Jubilee NDP and his new dress (Singapore’s NDP preparation typically begins 8 months before, so it ain’t so different huh).

The national budget is blown (once again) by this year’s extravagrant tailored dress and next year’s NDP could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. In spite of that, the ministers are chastised by the emperor to make it happen since they are the “highest paid ministers in the world”. Desperate, the ministers found their answer in cheap and exploitable local tailors Khairul and Nathan, owners of KnN tailors.

The Emperor's New Clothes by W!LD RICE pic 2

PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

The ‘brothers from another mother/father’ rallied and broke out into song and dance, celebrating their big break. They impressed the emperor with their speed tailoring and was advised by the Emperor to rebrand themselves as ‘KnN Costume Custom Bespoke’, KnNCCB for short (Laughs).

But all is not as it seems. The two discovers that the fashionista emperor that they adore can’t tell dog hair from fur and have been imprisoning citizens for unjust reasons. The KNNCCB tailors then decided to expose him with a dress made from a material so fine and exquisite that only the ‘most intelligent, clever and competent’ can see it.

Their plan almost go awry when Empress Janet (Audrey Luo) demands the tailors to try on the cloth (Kheng almost strips, don’t funk with our hearts damn it). A year later, the ‘big reveal’ was made ‘right in our faces’ and just like the original tale, everyone plays along until an innocent boy points out that Emperor LBK is really butt naked; further inspiring the ‘naked as my butt’ song.

But this is after all a pantomime for all ages and must end well. In the end, redemption and reconciliation was found with the emperor and his subjects.

The Emperor's New Clothes by W!LD RICE pic 3

PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

A world of difference from their previous production ‘Another Country’ (read my review here), The Emperor’s New Clothes features a gorgeous palace set by set designer Eucien Chia, and visually delectable costumes designed by Thailand’s Saksit Pisalaupongs and Phisit Jongnarangsin from the Tube Gallery.

The music was equally good too. Trust composer Julian Wong to come out with catchy vanilla tunes like the “There’s a Festival” NDP opening song, Khai and Nat’s “Brother from Another Mother/Father” bromance duet, and more.

As expected of a W!LD RICE’s production, no source material is off limits when it comes to scripting. Young playwright Joel Tan is the brains behind the witty dramatised musical.  Throughout the pantomime, the characters were on round robin; taking digs at the Motherland with witty one-liners and humourous satire often referenced to that of Singapore’s style of governance.

In spite of these, I found Oei’s musical a tad too lukewarm for my liking. In one scene where the tailors were explaining a certain fabric material woven and “washed by virgin’s tears”, one of the kids in the act asked “What’s a virgin?” The reply he got was, “Er.. Olive oil.” Great save there even if it was an intended reply.

While I get that W!LD RICE always seeks to challenge perspectives and status quo against the current political and socio-cultural narrative, perhaps The Emperor’s New Clothes is not be the right stage to do so. Pantomimes may be fun to watch, creating one that’s entertaining across all ages is a huge artistic challenge. Often, sacrifices have to be made to accommodate everyone and the result is a toothless, half-pass-six attempt for entertainment.

The kids from First Stage! were exceptional in their song and dance, perhaps too exceptional. In several scenes, Oei had the kids playing the younger version of the main characters, which were for me delightful at first, but distracting towards the end. I found myself watching the younger Khai and Nat dancing rather than the actual tailors Sezali and Kheng.

The Emperor's New Clothes by W!LD RICE pic 4

PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

Making their debut in a W!LD RICE production, watching Sezali and Kheng perform was as interesting as watching paint dry. Don’t get me wrong, both are immensely talented and delivered their lines well. Perhaps it was the kids overshadowing their performances, or the ‘cooling effect’ of having two equally talented artistes with similar stage persona performing side-by-side, I was left disappointed (because I was really looking forward to Kheng and Sezali’s debut performance).

On the other hand, it was the supporting characters; Empress Jeanette (Audrey Luo), and the ministers (Siti Khalijah Zainal and Benjamin Wong) who I felt shone in their roles. Audrey did a spectacular job as Empress Jeanette. I love her bilingual and very humourous dialogue delivered through expert acting. I love the charisma of Zainal, come what may she always dazzles in the roles given to her.

Ultimately, W!LD RICE should be credited for giving young artists and creatives a stage to execute their craft. During curtain call, artistic director Ivan Heng tells us that the talented cast is ‘all Singaporean’, which was poignant.

One idea that I really like from the musical was the ‘air-con dome city’ idea so that we can wear ‘fall and winter collection clothes’ anytime. The playwright must had heard the call of every Singaporean and incorporated it into the script. I bet the dome keeps the haze out too.

The Emperor’s New Clothes is not W!LD RICE’s best work nor the kind the theatre behemoth is known for, but an entertaining act nevertheless. Support local and catch The Emperor’s New Clothes at the Drama Centre Theatre. RW

Many thanks to W!LD RICE for the media invite.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Drama Centre Theatre

Opens 20 November to 12 December 2015

Following our smash-hit production ofMonkey Goes West, W!LD RICE puts a Singaporean spin on Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale about the ultimate fashion victim. Directed by Pam Oei, The Emperor’s New Clothes is a brand-new musical with a razor-sharp script by Joel Tan and a sparkling score by Julian Wong. Its stellar cast includes Lim Kay Siu as the Emperor, Benjamin Kheng of The Sam Willows, Singapore Idol’s Sezairi and Siti Khalijah Zainal – all playing musical instruments live on stage!

Ticket Pricing: $45 – $80

Web Link: The Emperor’s New Clothes

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