Barnett, Bodnar, Hibbard, Romoff Star in Yeston Rewrite of Loesser's Hans Christian Andersen

News   Barnett, Bodnar, Hibbard, Romoff Star in Yeston Rewrite of Loesser's Hans Christian Andersen Actor Ken Barnett has snagged the title role in a new stage version of Frank Loesser's Hans Christian Andersen, a property best known as a 1952 Danny Kaye film, for a run at Maine State Music Theatre this summer.

As previously reported by Playbill On-Line, Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic) has written a new libretto for the show, and is overseeing musical arrangements for the project.

Barnett's credits include Madison Square Garden's A Christmas Carol, Broadway's The Green Bird and Maine Stage's Blood Brothers, among other projects. The show also stars Amy Bodnar, the recent Laurey of Broadway's Oklahoma!, who'll play Jenny, the international ballerina Hans is in love with from afar, MSMT artistic director Charles Abbott told Playbill On-Line. Abbott will direct this world premiere rewrite of Hans Christian Andersen.

In the roles of a vaudeville couple, Hans' best friends, are Linda Romoff (of the Broadway revivals of Cabaret and Bells Are Ringing) and David Hibbard (of Broadway's A Class Act and Cats).

Although there have been stage productions of the fictional biographical movie musical in the past (Tommy Steele in London, a 2001 dark version in San Francisco starring John Glover and licensed stock and amateur versions), Yeston told Playbill On-Line "it's really sort of surprising that we have never seen a wonderful translation to the stage." Yeston, who has known Loesser's widow, Jo Sullivan Loesser, for years, calls his work on the project "a labor of love" and said the entire score will be Loesser's, including interpolations from the late composer-lyricist's catalog. Yeston is billed as librettist and musical arranger adapter.

(Unlike his work on Grand Hotel, for which his songs were added to a score by George Forrest and Robert Wright, Yeston promises he is not adding his own music or lyrics to the Loesser show.) Hans Christian Andersen plays Maine Stage Music Theatre in Brunswick, ME, June 4-21, opening the season.

MSMT artistic director Charles Abbott staged the world premiere of Yeston and Arthur Kopit's Phantom at Theatre Under the Stars in Texas.

While Abbott directs and stages the smaller numbers, the three ballets and production numbers are being created and choreographed by Ginger Thatcher, Susan Stroman's assistant on Oklahoma!, and creator of many ballets of her own. Musical director is Ed Reichert. Designers are Charles S. Kading (set), Jimm Halliday (costume) and Jeffrey S. Koger (lighting). Orchestrations are being created by Michael Starobin.

"MSMT is giving it a full production for our subscription audience, while Maury, Ginger and I continue to think of it as a Workshop production," Abbott told Playbill On-Line. "We'll find as much of this complicated musical as we can, open it, look at it, and learn from it."

Supporting cast members include John-Charles Kelly as Lars Kronborg, owner of the ballet company, and Andrew Asnes as Bournonville, the famous choreographer. Also in supporting roles are Joyce Presutti and Ed Romanoff, and in leading dance roles are Cameron Adams, Seth Belliston, Alana Niehoff, Rommy Sandhu, Melissa Rouse and John Summers, all directly from Broadway shows and ballet companies. The cast of 35 will include six children.

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"I think the score to 'Hans Christian Andersen,' as performed by Danny Kaye in that movie is one of the treasures of the American musical theatre," Yeston told Playbill On-Line. "In order to [adapt it successfully for the stage], it requires the skills not of an arranger and not of an adapter but actually of a Broadway composer. If you look at the movie carefully, everything is written for one character, and therefore there needs to be found a way for that score to be sung by a cast: Some things have to be sung by solo women, there need to be duets, there need to be company numbers. It required the sort of attitude of a composer to say, 'Let's suppose I had written that score for that movie. Let's suppose I need to adapt that for a Broadway show. How would I structure the story and these songs so they can become motivated dramatically?' That was the task."

Does Yeston, who makes his librettist debut with the show, do away with the film story?

"Yes, it's a new story far more realistic and far more about Hans Christian Andersen," Yeston explained. "Although, of course, it takes place in Denmark and involves the ballet [as the film does] because the Royal Danish Ballet was founded in Copenhagen around 1835. It still involves Hans Christian Andersen and a ballerina in the Royal Danish Ballet, but it's a new story, and far closer to the actual biographical details of Hans Christian Andersen. This is about young Andersen struggling as a writer, to write novel and plays and stories."

Songs from the popular film will be heard — "Wonderful Copenhagen," "The Ugly Duckling," "Thumbelina," "Anywhere I Wander," "No Two People," "I'm Hans Christian Andersen," "Inchworm" — as will Loesser interpolations Yeston was reluctant to reveal. (MSMT's website says "Baby, It's Cold Outside" will be added.)

"The reason we're going to Maine is so that people like you won't know about it and won't say anything to anybody, because, y'know, it's a tryout !" Yeston said, with a touch humor. "We don't want it to be reviewed nationally. We're developing it quietly."

Why did Yeston, who won Best Score Tonys for both Nine and Titanic, want to explore Hans Christian Andersen?

"I always loved it," he said. "Jo Sullivan Loesser asked me to take a look at it. There's no reason in the world why I would write a show with a score by anybody but me because that's what I do — I write my own scores. This has been a labor of love to me. It occurred to me that a brand new story, with that score — and also with additional Loesser songs from the Loesser songbook — could be not only a great celebration of Hans Christian Andersen and of that glorious score but also of Frank Loesser. To me, that's the attraction."

Visit the Maine State Music Theatre website at www.msmt.org.