A treasured fairy tale of a lovely bird that helps save a kingdom comes alive in the Adventure Theatre/MTC’s production of The Emperor’s Nightingale. Director Natsu Onoda Power leads a dynamic creative team to tell the story, set in 18th-century China, from a fresh new perspective .
Two brothers vie for their father’s favor to be selected as the next Emperor. Who will it be? Prince Bao, played by Brett Messiora looks primed to be next in line as future Emperor of the Dynasty. Although he is the younger brother, he has the air of thoughtfulness, while Andrew Quilpa plays Prince Hongshi as loud, brash and reckless from the start.
While the two tussle and grapple with how to win, the animals already seem to have the upper hand in understanding what’s really going on, especially the beloved Nightingale, played adoringly by Nadine Rousseau. With her sky-high view of the land, she sees the playful pandas frolicking at the watering hole sharing juicy gossip. She also has serious insight about the plight of the peasants, threats of imminent starvation, and even territorial regime change as Europeans slowly encroach into the area in search of spices as part of the “Silk Road.” The story doesn’t shy away from tough realities and covers a range of deep topics with depth and sensitivity.
The talented ensemble includes Sue Jin Song who brings a charming warm guidance in trying to nudge Prince Boa in the right direction. Mikey Cafarelli transitions from playful panda to knowledgeable story teller to the regal imperial majesty himself with ease. Jonathan Frye plays Minister Wu, an unscrupulous headmaster who devises a scheme to trick the Prince with a golden replica of a bird that seems to have answers and tells history of the kingdom.
Meanwhile, despite the nightingale’s warnings about hardships in the land, the brothers don’t care in the least– even the sensitive Prince Boa casts her aside. In a neat bit of direction, the young Prince sits enthralled in front of the phony legacy-spouting bird with the same intensity of a youngster playing a video game, or watching a favorite television show. The scene relays the distraction that can occur in any generation, even hundreds of years ago in a far different land. Once he undergoes some life-lessons of his own, the Prince has a change in heart to care enough for his people and the land to learn about his history and rise to the help save the kingdom. With the help of the valiant and courageous nightingale, he does just that.
The Emperor’s Nightingale
closes May 30, 2016
Details and tickets
Sophisticated projections by award winning set and projection designer Hana Sooyeon Kim are a marvel of color and design. The stunning visuals are exquisitely coordinated with lighting by Marie Yokoyama and sound designer Kenny Neal. The opening scene is filled with fish swimming in a beautiful undulating backdrop of a gorgeous coral reef. The backdrop then fades to relay the geometric designs of a kingdom wall, and then the most gorgeous landscape of flowers bathed in violet, royal blues and chartreuse, then back again with ultimate flexibility and ease. The innovative center panel opens for easy entrances and is flanked by swiveling doors and windows with pull blinds for ready access, entrances, and more scenic views.
The Tiger is winningly designed like a Chinese dragon with large head and long trailing body held by another actor. The eyes close and ears actually move, designed by the talented Andrea “Dre” Moore and while the Tiger playfully interacts with all the creatures, his loud roar thanks to sound design by Kenny Neal will knock you off your seat. Deb Kim Sivigny designed the beautifully tailored tunics and flowing robes, nightingales delicate pastel wings, and the peasants’ earth toned tattered garments.
Perfectly and intentionally timed to coincide with Asian-Pacific American Heritage celebrations, this production of The Emperor’s Nightingale is yet another example of the soaring vision at Adventure Stage MTC and the designers’ ability to make their dream come true.
The Emperor’s Nightingale . Based on the Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Anderson . Adapted by Damon Chua . Directed by Natsu Onoda Power . Cast is Brett Messiora, Nadine Rousseau, Mikey Cafarelli, Sue Jin Song, Andrew Quilpa, Jonathan Frye . Choreographer: Stella Choi . Costume Design: Debra Kim Sivigny . Set Projection Design: Hana Sooyeon Kim . Lighting Design: Marie Yokoyama . Sound Design: Kenny Neal. Stage Manager: Brittany Truske . Produced by Adventure Theatre MTC . Reviewed by Debbie Miner Jackson.