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Curtains: Stageworks' The Emperor's New Clothes at Mesa Arts Center

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Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" would be a cool little fable even if it were only about exposing pretension and exploding the myths of class and taste. But it's also about a ruler who's so obsessed with style and glamor that his empire's real needs are unattended to.

Eric Coble's musical version of the classic fairy tale, currently being presented by Mesa's Stageworks, emphasizes the story's multiple morals while keeping things moving right along with humor, song, and a tasty Caribbean setting. Though the show dragged a bit when I saw it, it was the production's first weekend at Mesa Arts Center, and the company's band of spunky, seasoned performers has probably picked up the pace by now.

Originally known as Mesa Youtheatre, Stageworks has been presenting theater for young audiences in downtown Mesa (and sometimes on local tours) since before I was a teenager. For the past few decades, a dedicated staff packed with ASU graduates has applied the principles of professional and educational drama to the company's productions, and the community's artists and audiences have benefited.

This The Emperor's New Clothes opens with a short scene that sets up the "telling" of the story, after which a peppy production number unfolds, during which palm trees, ocean waves, and other elements of Paul Sannerud's cuddly set design fly in to establish the island of Little Iguana, where the tale takes place. If the show were all about the drama, this would be weird and pointless, but it's also about what theater is -- and besides, kids like seeing trees flying in and toy fish cavorting in a blue-scrim sea (and hey, so do I).

The entire cast is bouncy and outgoing, and they all sing nicely and totally rock their colorful unisex pareos designed by Gail Wolfenden-Steib. The script, while not an enduring piece of children's literature, gets the job done in about an hour, and you and the kids won't feel talked down to while you bop in your seats to the West Indian rhythms.

The Emperor's New Clothes runs through May 3 in the Nesbitt/Elliot Playhouse at Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street. Tickets are $12 to $13; order here or call 480-644-6500.

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