Adventure Theatre MTC’s latest project is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, The Emperor’s Nightingale. Playwright Damon Chua has created a new adaptation, set in China in the eighteenth century, which tells the story of two brothers competing to determine who is worthier to succeed their Emperor father. The “winner” of this contest is the historical Emperor Qianlong, who ruled from 1735-1796 and grew to become one of China’s greatest rulers.
With the help and encouragement of his mother, the Emperor’s younger son seeks out a nightingale, who flies around country gathering news, and hopes to learn all learns all there is to know about his land. But the older brother, with the aid of a top Minister, attempts to trick the younger brother with false information from a mechanical bird.
With direction by Natsu Onoda Power and choreography by Stella Choi, the production is steeped in Chinese tradition. Adventure Theatre MTC’s Artistic Director, Michael J. Bobbitt, proudly announced at the start of the show that the cast and creative team were entirely comprised of Asian artists and the result is an authentically beautiful piece of theater.
The ensemble includes Brett Messiora (Prince Bao), Nadine Rousseau (Nightingale), Mikey Cafarelli (Panda, Emperor, Storyteller), Sue Jin Song (Panda, Empress Consort), Andrew Quilpa (Prince Hongshi, Tiger Tail), and Jonathan Frye (Minister Wu, Tiger Head).
The entire cast is a delight and clearly takes great pride is this production. The show is energized from beginning to end and flows at steady pace that never stops. There is a wide range of character types and scenes, with everyone in the cast playing multiple parts, which makes the show fun for any age: adorably goofy Pandas, a life-size tiger, and a battle of knowledge portrayed through mimed martial arts.
The set and projections were impressively designed by Hana Sooyeon Kim. The set consisted of rotating walls and moving shutters. Chinese characters would appear written on the walls at the start of each section of the story; shadow puppets were projected onto the wall to recall the tale of an old Emperor; and the manipulation of the shades would cue different color and background projections. And the costumes by Deb Sivigny are stunning.
Properties and Puppets Designer, Andrea “Dre” Moore, constructed the mechanical bird, built to fool the younger Prince and replace the mysterious nightingale, and also created the incredible Tiger, maneuvered by two of the actors. The tail of the tiger would hilarious pop away from the head and the two would argue with each other. Anyone with kids knows that, when entertaining young audiences, one can never go wrong with a talking rear-end.
The Emperor’s Nightingale is a magnificent show and cultural experience, just in time for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, in May. Adventure Theatre MTC has done a laudable job producing an educational and fun piece of theater that will entertain the entire family. Experience the magical history of the Middle Kingdom of the eighteenth century and don’t miss out.
Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.
The Emperor’s Nightingale shows through May 30, 2016 at Adventure Theatre MTC – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.