New musical to debut in Columbia

Thursday, July 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:13 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

The scene is set for Brantley, Kan., with a tailor shop on one side of the street and a general store on the other. Townspeople mill about visiting, shopping, singing and dancing — all on stage at the Columbia Entertainment Co.

The company, known as CEC, will end its 25th season with the world premiere of “The Klemperers’ New Clothes.” The production is based on the fairy tale of a similar name by Hans Christian Andersen.

In this version, Mr. Klemperer owns the general store. Mrs. Klemperer is a mail-order bride who looks down her nose at the townspeople — in particular the tailor, who tries to sell her clothes.

“The Klemperers’ New Clothes” is being staged for the first time in Columbia because it won the CEC’s 2003 Jackie White Memorial National Children’s Play Writing Contest. The play’s newness posed challenges for the directors and the 23-member cast.

“Because this is the first time this show has been put on the stage, there’s no precedent,” director Trent Rash said. “We have nothing to base it on, and we’ve had to throw ourselves out there with the creativity.”

In addition to the normal liberties taken with costumes, scenery and choreography, CEC has worked to specifically create and develop every character onstage.

“We have colorful townspeople,” Rash said. “We named all the characters, and each cast member created their own history and their own role in the town.”

That’s what 13-year-old Brighton Mirtsching likes best. “I can kind of do whatever I want with the character,” said Brighton, who plays Jenny, the tailor’s daughter. “I haven’t done a show like that before, and I enjoy coming to rehearsal every day.”

Rash said the individual characters have developed well in six weeks of rehearsal time. The overall vision of the production, however, has taken longer. The production staff has met since February, reading the script, discussing blocking and creating the overall context for the musical.

“It’s been a challenge to get everyone on the same page,” Rash said. “It isn’t until now that they get to see the big picture.”

For many cast members, that has been the best part of their play experience. “We learned all the musical numbers and pieced them together a little at a time,” said Jennifer Bloss, who plays Widow Lollygag. “I loved seeing everyone’s character develop and how it all comes together.”

The hope of the directors is that the play comes together well, particularly because the musical’s creators, Norman Weiss (who currently plays piano for “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway) and William Squier, will come from out of state to attend the play.

“We tried to present this play with creative ways to showcase the script,” Rash said. “We hope they enjoy our interpretation of it.”

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