Hans Christian Andersen, the world premiere Sebastian Barry adaptation of the 1952 musical film -- which features puppetry and illusion to tell the famous Andersen fairy tales -- ends its run at the American Conservatory Theatre Oct. 8. While rumored as Broadway bound, the musical will not make the move any time soon to New York. In fact, according to ACT's press representative, Broadway had never been in the plans. Observers have said the show thwarts an audience's expectations and is dark, gloomy and lugubrious in its concept and direction. The beloved film version has a lighter, more hopeful tone.
Certainly, the plans for a future looked dimmer after the show received unfavorable reviews at ACT. The musical, which interpolated songs from various Frank Loesser scores as well as the film, is directed by Martha Clarke using many stage effects, flying and illusions.
John Glover stars as Hans Christian Andersen. Glover won a Tony Award for playing twins in Terrence McNally's Love! Valor! Compassion! and most recently appeared Off-Broadway in the U.S. premiere of Brian Friel's Give Me Your Answer, Do! for the Roundabout. Other credits include Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Henceforward, Tartuffe and The Traveler with film roles in movies from "Annie Hall" and "Julia" to "Payback."
In the musical, Glover's Andersen will rise from the poverty of his youth to great renown for the magic of his tales. His fairy stories -- "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Little Match Girl," "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes" -- play out in puppet and person form alongside a biography of the Danish writer. Much flying and magic is promised in this new version, which is linked to commercial producer Dodger Theatricals.
The Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) score, performed by Danny Kaye in the film, includes "Thumbelina," "The Ugly Duckling," "Inchworm," "Wonderful Copenhagen," "Anywhere I Wander," and "No Two People." These tunes will be adapted and arranged by Richard Peaslee with orchestrations by Michael Starobin. The score also offers the movie's songs and one unused song from the film score ("Shoe Song") plus songs from the lesser-known Loesser shows Pleasures and Palaces (his last show, which closed out of town) and Greenwillow. "Riddleweed" from Greenwillow and "Barabanchik," "Far, Far Away" and "What is Life?" from Pleasures and Palaces are heard in this version.
Bookwriter Barry is best known in America for his The Steward of Christendom and Our Lady of Sligo, both produced Off-Broadway as well as in major productions in London and Dublin. His second novel, "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty," was published in the U.S. last year.
Putting Loesser and Barry on stage is music-theatre innovator Clarke, whose visually strong work has included The Garden of Earthly Delights, Vienna: Lusthaus, Miracolo d'Amore and Alice's Adventures Underground. Both director and choreographer for Hans Christian Andersen, Clarke's dance background began as a founding member of Pilobolus Dance Theatre.
Joining Glover in the cast are George Hall (Grandfather), Jarlath Conroy (Father), John Christopher Jones (Schoolmaster), Rob Besserer (Shadow), Karen Trott (Mother), Jenny Sterlin (Witch), Teri Hansen (Jenny Lind) and Galina Alexandrova (Ballerina). The ensemble features Ian Wolff, Jula Mattison, Katie Green, Felix Blaska, Alexander Proia, Shen Wei, Dashiell Eaves (1776, The Sound of Music), Marie-Christine Mouis, Erica Stuart and Paola Styron.
Hans Christian Andersen's design team includes Broadway's Paul Gallo (lighting), 2000 Tony nominee Jane Greenwood (costumes), Robert Israel (sets) and Garth Hemphill (sound). Roman Paska designed the puppets.
Tickets are $14-$55. American Conservatory Theatre's Geary Theater is located at 415 Geary Street. For reservations, call (415) 749-2250. American Conservatory Theatre is on the web at www.act-sfbay.org.
The British actor Tommy Steele starred as Hans in a 1974 London stage musical called Hans Andersen (with the Loesser score), which was a smash and played a popular tour. The script deviated from the film. After script revisions and new songs by Marvin Laird were added, it was revived for 10 weeks in 1977, with Steele and a recording was cobbled together from 1974 and 1977 casts. There was also a separate stage version that played regionally in the U.S. with Michael Feinstein as Hans.
-- By Kenneth Jones
and Christine Ehren