Imagine U stages modern retelling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”


Source: Pete Brace

Promotional Art for “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The musical is a retelling of the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.

Jennifer Zhan, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

The classic story of an emperor who dresses to impress is coming to life with a few new characters in Imagine U’s upcoming musical, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” based on the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.

The production features music and lyrics by Alan Schmuckler (Communication ‘05) and a book by David Holstein (Communication ‘05). It opens Feb. 21 in the Hal & Martha Hyer Wallis Theater at The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, and runs through March 8.

“One of the things that’s exciting about this production (is) it provides a way to get young people excited about musical theater and how impactful storytelling can be in this form,” the music director and Communication junior Ruchir Khazanchi said.

The music in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” adds “buoyancy and levity” to the story, Khazanchi said. He added that the production demonstrates how theater for young audiences is theater for all audiences and will be engaging for the whole family.

Like the original fairytale, this adaptation explores the dangers of pride and vanity. In the show, the clothing-obsessed Emperor spends his money on his personal wardrobe rather than enacting change to help his subjects.

Director and choreographer Amanda Tanguay said she hopes to inspire dialogue between young people and their parents. With the 80-minute production, she’s conscious of creating a show that is palatable to children and their attention spans but also meaningful across all age groups.

“The most important thing is to find the honesty in the piece and make sure we are telling the story as genuinely as possible,” Tanguay said. “When you’re just a human making choices and learning and growing on stage, it’s easier for viewers to understand (and) see reflections of themselves in the characters.”

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” will be the final Northwestern performance for Communication senior Hannah Hakim, who plays the Emperor’s college-aged daughter, Sam. In this modern retelling, Sam and her father struggle to get along and appreciate each other.

Hakim said she chose to wrap up her Northwestern career with this show because it’s “very honest” — her favorite type of theater.

“(My character) is very grounded and is the only one that kind of sees through all the BS,” Hakim said. “What I really love about it is I just get to play an honest character in a musical where everyone around me is over the top and funny.”

Tanguay said while the show has many humorous scenes, she has enjoyed working on moments where the story explores the character relationships and how they succeed or fail at communicating effectively.

To her, the Imagine U version of the fairy tale is special because it also focuses on how empathy can help people approach disagreements and differences in opinion. It’s a message she said all audience members can take away.

“(What’s) important in helping to create peace and harmony in our world is learning to listen and understand the people around us,” Tanguay said. “The earlier we do it, the better we are at using those tools in the future.”

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