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The Emperor's New Clothes


Musical in 1 Act: Music by Stephen Flaherty; Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens


Emperor Marcus the Third wonders how he can possibly run an empire when he's only 14 years old. In an attempt to appear more mature to his people, he accepts the credo that "clothes make the man," but soon finds himself the centre of a hoax. Who can blame him for getting into a royal mess--only to find that "no matter how grand or small you appear/the person who counts is the person in here!" And "here," as everyone knows, is your heart.


Everyone in the Palace bustles about with excitement, decorating, cooking cleaning and scouring--today is the day that the young emperor will be crowned. We meet the royal advisers, a married couple named William and Deena, as well as the lowly "royal scrub boy," a kid named Arno. The grand doors are opened to reveal the new ruler--but he's not there. In a panic, William rushes off to find him, and we meet Marcus, fourteen years old and completely insecure about ascending to the throne. He wants to cancel the event, but William bucks up the boy's confidence and gets him to the coronation, where Emperor Marcus the Third is reluctantly crowned.

In the royal portrait gallery, Arno and Emperor Marcus collide accidentally. It's the first time the boys have ever met, and they immediately like one another. Looking at the imposing line of ancestors in the portraits, Marcus confides that he's nothing like his fierce, wise, noble forbears. Arno suggests that maybe he needs more imposing clothes--if he looks like an emperor, maybe he'll feel like one, too.

Marcus commands Deena to dress him like an emperor, and she does her best, but the array of increasingly silly finery makes the young man look ridiculous. Villagers arrive with local problems for the Emperor to solve--a large hole in the road, an overflowing river--but he is too insecure to make any decisions, and resorts to more and more outlandish costumes. Outside the Palace, a Swindler arrives in town, and hears the disgruntled villagers complain about the ineptitude of their foppish young ruler. He concocts a plan and tricks his way into the Palace.

The Swindler manages to convince Marcus that he is a tailor who can make magic clothes which are "Invisible" to fools and liars. Marcus becomes convinced that he will be able to see the truth in all situations, and he places an order for the clothes, and commands his advisors to give the new tailor anything he wants. He also tells them to plan a parade, where his magnificent new clothes will be revealed. Deena is humiliated and upset, and William is very concerned.

With the Swindler ensconced in royal luxury, Deena and William try to convince each other that "I'm Not Scared." But what if these magic clothes are real? What if they're revealed as fools? By the end of the song they've worked themselves into a panic.

Marcus and Arno meet up again in the garden, and Arno challenges Marcus to a guessing game. During the game they discover that they each have a lot of special talents and abilities. But at last, Marcus tells Arno that they can’t see each other again--an Emperor has to keep up appearances. He adds that if Arno comes to the parade, he will at least wave to him.

Meanwhile, the Swindler is making the most of being in the Palace, as he supposedly works on the magic clothes. He orders gold, pearls, and all manner of exotic foods, and keeps Deena and William dashing madly around to satisfy his whims.

The problems in the village are getting worse, and Marcus hides to avoid having to deal with them. He needs to "Make It Through the Week" until his magical clothes are ready. He has several close encounters with townspeople, and manages to avoid detection. But when Arno happens by, Marcus grabs him and confides the situation. Arno inadvertently reveals him, and the chase is on again.

The night before the parade, everyone wonders "How Am I Ever Gonna Get To Sleep." William and Deena worry about whether they'll have a job tomorrow, once the new clothes are revealed. Arno can't wait for the parade, Marcus anticipates his magic clothes, and the Swindler is already counting his money!

In the morning, after he's paid, the Swindler opens a clothes bag to reveal--an empty hanger. Marcus, Deena and William are each convinced they are the only one who can't see the clothes. Unwilling to admit it and afraid to be perceived as fools, they all begin to describe what they "see"--as the Swindler confirms or corrects them. By the end, they are all enthusiastically praising the new clothes. The Emperor hurries off to get dressed in the invisible garments, for the parade is about to begin. The Swindler hurries to pack up his spoils and get out of town.

The parade is in progress. Arno stands on the sidelines, waving and cheering. As Marcus goes by, Arno blurts out the truth--"He's not wearing any clothes!" But no one will agree, even though it's the truth. Marcus doesn't know what to believe--he turns and asks the kids in the audience if he's wearing any clothes, and of course, the response is a roaring--"No!!"

Marcus is devastated, but Arno comes forward to remind him how special he is--"Only A Guy Like You" could know and do all that Marcus can. Deena and William agree, and admit that they were afraid to tell him the truth. Gaining confidence, Marcus makes his first official proclamation--"That we should all try to be exactly who we are!" Suddenly, the Swindler is revealed, hiding in the bushes, laughing hysterically at the Emperor in his underwear and he is arrested. As justice, Marcus makes him the royal scrub boy, and promotes Arno to "Royal Truthsayer." He solves the problems of the realm by using his tons of clothes to plug up the hole in the road and dam up the river. And as the parade resumes, all celebrate--

The people are waving and smiling and proud,
The villain is making amends!
No matter how grand or how small you appear
The person who counts is the person in here...
And that’s why we’re finally friends
And that’s how the story ends!!

Musical Numbers

  1. Emperor Marcus The Third
  2. The Ancestor Song.
  3. Only A Guy Like You.