The Emperor’s New Clothes

Rated 4.0

Local playwright Richard Hellesen has done well over the years with his oft-staged adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Now, Hellesen’s adapted another classic, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, for the Children’s Theatre of California.

Hellesen and director Anthony D’Juan present the old tale in fast-moving fashion with an early Hollywood twist. The show opens with a frantic chase modeled on the Keystone Kops (actors Miles Miniaci and Stephen Lamar) and then spins into a nimble homage to the Marx brothers’ chatty Chico and pantomiming Harpo (played by Lauren Adams and Danielle Moné Thrower). These tributes will tickle youngsters, even though few kids nowadays have seen the classic black-and-white films being referenced.

What really powers this production is the marvelously mannered performance by David Pierini in the title role. Pierini is a fine comic actor; people still marvel at his multiple roles a few years back in the B Street Theatre’s production of Around the World in 80 Days.

In this show, Pierini is supremely selfish and quite entertaining as a headstrong monarch, wearing new and increasingly outrageous outfits in each scene, preening before a mirror while fiddling with his hair and working his fluid voice to manipulative extremes. He’s goofy enough to delight the children, but there’s a cagey edge that will keep grown-ups on board as well.

Perky Asuna Osako is the “kid who speaks the truth.” (Can’t do this show without her!) Ed Claudio, who presents righteous anger better than any other actor in town, plays the girl’s dad. Ken Kligerman contributes live music, and Frank Billecci surely had fun doing the zany costumes.