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The Emperor and the Nightingale

a Family show
CATEGORY : CHILDREN MUSICAL PUPPET
by April-Dawn Gladu and James Woodward

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4316

SHOWING : July 14, 2012 - August 03, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Travel back in time to ancient China, where the Nightingale’s beautiful song transforms a troubled Emperor into the land’s wisest ruler and the Nightingale into his most treasured companion. Adapted by the author of last summer’s The Jungle Book, this family musical is destined to put a song in your heart.
*Appropriate for all ages.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Soothing the Savage Breast
by Dedalus
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
4.5
Once upon a time (and not very long ago it was), there lived a man named Hans Christian Anderson who devised a tale. The tale told of an Emperor who captivates a nightingale whose song has captivated his heart. When a mechanical device supplants the nightingale, the bird is given its freedom and flees the emperor�s palace. In later years, the Emperor�s musical device loses its charms, and the Emperor deteriorates, almost unto death. Hearing of this, the nightingale returns and her song restores the emperor and the kingdom.

This classic tale was always a Westerner�s idea of China, a �from the outside� approach based solely on a popular decorative style of nineteenth-century Europe (�Chinoiserie�). Now, Allen O�Reilly and Georgia Shakespeare�s Family Series have found an adaptation of this story by April-Dawn Gladu that takes a decidedly Eastern Approach. The story is basically the same, but it is now layered with elements of Chinese history, with rituals and traditions associated with New Year festivals, with woodcut backdrop projections that take us from rural village to elegant palace, with music that �mashes up� Eastern and Western styles and genres, and with whimsical puppetry that charms as it amuses. The result is a lyrical and effective tale, spun by a troupe of artists that seems to take no false steps.

I suppose, to be honest, my limited background precludes me making a judgment on the accuracy of the Eastern styles and tropes and elements. Still, I daresay most of us have been exposed to more actual Chinese arts than did those of Anderson�s day, and, to me, this show works on that level. The costumes and projections are indeed similar to images I have seen from China, and from scenes and styles of recent historical films by directors such as Zhang Yimou.

More to the point, director O�Reilly has gathered an ensemble of young actors who flit from role to role with ease, and who capture both the imagination of the grown-ups in the audience as easily as they (apparently) capture the attention of the not-so-grown-ups. I really loved Ann Marie Gideon�s elegant movements in the all-dance role of the Nightingale, as well as Terrance Jackson�s wounded gruffness and authority as the Emperor. Seth Langer is screamingly funny as the jealous music master and Anna Kimmell is nicely animatronic as the mechanical �Jade Bird.�

But, the real standout (for me) was Caleb Clark�s �Imperial Choir.� Wearing a towering headdress composed of five marionette-esque puppets, Mr. Clark creates five distinct characters, often at odds with each other, without losing an overall personal attitude towards them. In other words, he�s really playing six characters at the same time � the five individual singers and the choir itself. It�s a dexterous performance that works on every level.

And the production looks great. A simple set backed by a large projection screen, the images (presumably by Set Designer Jon Nooner � the program lists no �background artist) combined with the rich reds and golds of Liz Stewart�s lighting design, creates a world that is both beautiful and exotic. Katy Munroe�s costumes are better than anything from the main repertory season, and the puppets (by Stephanie Kaskel Bogle), including a marvelous �New Year�s Dragon,� are captivating.

The acid test, though, is how well the kids respond. At last Saturday�s early morning show, there was nary a restless whimper from the totally engaged kids. It may be the newness of the story for them, the exotic and bright costumes, the silly joking of the music master and choir, or the moments of audience participation, but they all seemed entranced.

As was I. This is, perhaps, my favorite of all the Family productions Georgia Shakespeare has offered, and I (for one) really appreciate the effort they are making to find new stories that appeal equally to boys and to girls and to the grown-ups they�ve let into their lives.

Just as the Nighingale�s music has the power to soothe the savage breast of the Emperor, this production soothed the cranky-morning critic breast that yearned for caffeine and surprise.

Gong xi fa cai!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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