Little Nemo in Slumberland
Synopsis written by J.D. McClatchy, librettist of Little Nemo in Slumberland
Little Nemo—most of the time a very good boy of seven—is sitting on his bed in his pajamas but not ready yet to fall asleep. His parents can be heard urging him to get under the covers. His Father has read him a story, and his Mother reminds him that tomorrow they will be having visitors, a Mr. Murphy and his daughter. His parents expect him to be well-behaved, not “like that rascal Philip” who lives next door. Nemo protests that he isn’t sleepy, while his parents wish him good night and leave.
Nemo tosses and turns on his bed, but finally does fall asleep. Only a shaft of moonlight through the window illuminates him. Suddenly, from behind the curtains of his bedroom window, two long trumpets protrude and start to play a fanfare. As they do, the trumpeters, in palace uniforms, mysteriously emerge. Nemo, deep in his dream, “wakes up.” More Palace Guards appear and call his name. When he asks who they are, they inform him that he is wanted at the palace of Morpheus, King of Slumberland. Nemo must rescue the King’s daughter, and save his kingdom from the forces of Daylight, which threaten to ruin his dark and dreamy realm. (Nemo, of course, doesn’t realize that, in the language of dreams, the Mr. Murphy and his daughter that his Mother had just mentioned have now become King Morpheus and his daughter, the Princess, just as Nemo’s neighbor, the rascally Philip, will soon become the impish Flip, in the dream.)
Then, all at once, the bed grows legs and strides out the window, carrying the astonished Nemo. As the bed flies off, the Palace Guards march back behind the curtains, and by the time the bed has disappeared into the night sky, one Guard remains—who wriggles out of his uniform, lights his cigar, and introduces himself. It is Flip, who is determined to see that Nemo doesn’t succeed and to win the Princess for himself. He leaps through the window.
The bedroom dissolves, leaving only the gigantic Moon. Stars are visible in the vast distance and they sing to Nemo. Escorted by the Palace Guards, Nemo approaches, and the Moon’s mouth opens. Out walks the Princess and her attendants. As she gestures for Nemo to go with her, Dr. Pill walks out of the Moon, and Flip can be seen sneaking in from the side. He tries to hurry his uncle, the Guardian of the Dawn in his gleaming armor, to come help him wake everybody up and destroy Slumberland. Fumbling to help, Dr. Pill tries to get everyone back into the Moon, and Nemo and the Princess get inside just before the Guardian of the Day is preparing to have the sun rise.
Nemo, the Princess, and Dr. Pill arrive at the Cave of Glass. The beautiful Crystallette appears, along with her two attendants, Luminella and Glimmerina. All of them are made of glass, and they shimmer. Crystalette is haughty to the Princess, and Nemo is dazzled by her. The jealous Princess notices this, and sings such a high note that the glass girls all shatter into a hundred pieces.
Finally, they come to the Gates of Slumberland. Three huge and menacing Giants are guarding them. Nemo and the Princess shout up to the Giants, who do not notice them. Dr. Pill has a solution. He gives Nemo a pill that, when he swallows it, makes him grow to the size of the Giants. He tells the Giants of his mission. Meanwhile, Flip has arrived, finds another magic pill and swallows it. As he begins to grow, Nemo shrinks again to his normal size. The Giants reveal to Nemo a secret passageway, where he and the Princess and Dr. Pill enter. Flip, meanwhile, is now too huge to follow them.
They approach the main city of Slumberland, but can’t get over the high walls around it. Dr. Pill looks in his bag, and pulls out a gigantic cannon and cannonball. He takes the cannonball apart, has everyone climb into it, and then the Guards shoot the cannon. The ball soars over the wall, turns into a balloon and basket, and lands them safely in the public square.
A great crowd welcomes them to Slumberland, and there is a grand parade, with fantastic creatures singing and dancing—Bird Cages with Wings, a Carriage drawn by Rabbits, Silverware on Stilts, Dancing Fruit, Pigs in Tuxedos, a Monkey with Twelve Legs, Fish in Bow Ties. The King’s own marching band brings up the rear. The palace doors open, and King Morpheus appears to welcome home his daughter and to hope that Nemo can save them all.
Flip has snuck into the city, and brings the Guardian of the Dawn near to the ceremony. Bright beams of his sunlight begin to make the crowd nervous. Flip laughs maniacally. The Princess is frightened. Nemo isn’t sure what to do. The crowd panics and runs away. Even the Stars are afraid.
Everything then gets dark. The noises get louder, and we can see Nemo in his bed, thrashing around. At the foot of his bed, his dog is barking. It wakes Nemo up. He is scratching his head, confused and worried.
It is now the next night. Nemo is in bed, but this time he is eager to go to sleep. And when he falls into a dream, he is at the court of King Morpheus—but everyone there is sound asleep. The King and his courtiers, the Princess, Dr. Pill, the Palace Guards—all asleep. Only Flip is awake, and watches Nemo enter. “Nobody sleeps in a dream,” says Nemo, and he calls out “Goodnight, everybody!” At that, everyone begins to wake up, and they are relieved to find Nemo has returned. But there is a crisis. The King explains that the Emperor Sol, the ruler of daylight, wants all twenty-four hours for himself. There is to be no twilight, no midnight, no rest and no dreams. Everyone looks at Nemo, hoping he can save them.
He promises to help them preserve the night and the world of dreams. But suddenly Flip stirs, and confronts them. He whistles, and the whole palace is turned upside-down. Panic, gasps, shouts. The King and his court are high up on the “floor,” while Flip is down on the “ceiling,” boasting that only he can save them now. He whistles again, and summons the Guardian of the Dawn.
Light comes in through the windows. The Palace Guards try to pull the curtains shut—when Nemo interrupts everyone. He knows now that Flip is really just Philip, the bully who lives next door. He suggests they shake hands, and they do. Nemo wants to propose a compromise, that Day and Night divide their time equally. But there is no lawyer to draw up a contract. Flip whistles once again and in waddle lots of lawyers, each with a great feather-pen and an armful of paper.
The lawyers, with great ado, draw up a contract—and then realize that the dawn is coming soon and Nemo will have to go, because he must wake up in his own bed. Nemo is upset, but the Princess re-assures him that he can visit her anytime he dreams: “Every night, just take my hand / And I’ll lead you off to Slumberland.” The strange creatures from the parade all return and gather around the happy pair. The giant Moon rises, and everybody climbs inside it. The Moon rises. The Princess waves back at Nemo, who begins to yawn. The Moon sails on, and can next be seen outside Nemo’s bedroom window. And there is Nemo himself! He’s tucked in bed, and sound asleep.