BWW Review: THE EMPEROR'S NIGHTINGALE at Adventure Stage-MTC A Charming Tale
Would you believe me if I told you that one of the hottest tickets in town is at a children's theater? That you might actually get a kick out of sitting next to restless, chatty 7-year-olds, while an actress dressed as a bird roams up into the seats to say hello? That the scenic design alone might just blow your mind?
With the growth in adult theaters around town it's easy to forget that there has always been a vogue for kid's stories geared to grown-ups; it's as old as Aesop. You might grudgingly bring a kid to a matinee, but you'll stay because the story offers you something to ponder too. And if you're really lucky, the production values anticipate your craving for some serious spectacle.
Adventure Theatre-MTC has pulled out quite a few stops with their current production of The Emperor's Nightingale. Playwright Damon Chua has taken Hans Christian Anderson's famous tale, added some historical research, and created a fascinating, educational and highly amusing one-hour tour of 18th century China. This Emperor's Nightingale features everything from chubby, bamboo-chewing pandas (via Deb Sevigny's fun, inventive costume design) to a truly eye-popping array of animated projections from award-winning scenic designer Hana Sooyeon Kim.
Director Natsu Onoda Power has assembled a charismatic cast whose masterful quick-changes enable them to play a whole kingdom of characters. They know how important it is to keep young people engaged, too, and when not moving the plot forward they routinely interact with the audience (a ravenous tiger soliciting recipes for roast Nightingale was one of my personal favorites). And Andrea "Dre" Moore's puppetry-not to mention her design for the mechanical nightingale-are a perfect accompaniment.
Nadine Rousseau leads the talented cast as Nightingale, gracefully swooping in and around the stage and charming everyone at first glance. She has been selected by Prince Bao (the engagingly naïve Brett Messiora) to help him compete for the throne against Bao's evil brother, Prince Hongshi (Andrew Quilpa, in one of several solid roles). As in Anderson's tale, Bao is enchanted by a mechanical substitute and you're held in suspense to see whether Bao will realize his mistake. You've even got some wildlife-Mikey Cafarelli and Sue Jin Song are brilliantly chatty, gossipy pandas, while Quilpa teams up with Jonathan Frye (who doubles as the evil Minister Wu) as a Tiger, whose tail seems even more loquacious than its head, go figure.
Adventure Theatre's The Emperor's Nightingale is a perfect entertainment for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, created and performed by Asian-Americans with all audiences in mind. It doesn't hurt that you can hitch a ride on one of the DC area's most beautiful carousels, which sits just 30 yards away from the theater!
Production Photo: Nadine Rousseau as Nightingale, with projection by Hana Sooyeon Kim. Photo by Michael Horan.
Running Time: 1 hour, with plenty of time for the Carousel afterwards!
Performances are April 22-May 30 at the Adventure Theatre, Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, MD. Tickets can be ordered by calling 301-634-2270, or by visiting: www.adventuretheater-mtc.org.