Wonderful, Wonderful! Yeston Rewrite of Loesser's Hans Christian Andersen Aiming for London

News   Wonderful, Wonderful! Yeston Rewrite of Loesser's Hans Christian Andersen Aiming for London
 
A stage version of the Frank Loesser-scored film, "Hans Christian Andersen," with new book and fresh arrangements by Tony Award-winner Maury Yeston, may play London's West End in late 2004 or early 2005, Yeston told Playbill On-Line.

Composer-lyricist Yeston, who shepherded this new take on the old property — and saw it premiere in an American summer stock tryout in 2003 — said he's in negotiation with the Ambassador Group for the London premiere of the rewrite.

In the 1970s, London saw a separate version of the show — with non-Loesser song interpolations — starring Tommy Steele singing "Inchworm," "No Two People," "I'm Hans Christian Andersen," "The Ugly Duckling" and more.

At Maine State Theatre in summer 2003, Ken Barnett snagged the title role as the writer who created such timeless tales as "Thumbelina," "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Ugly Duckling." The property is best known as a 1952 Danny Kaye film.

Composer-lyricist Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic) wrote a new libretto for the show, and oversaw musical arrangements for the project.

In Maine, Amy Bodnar, Laurey of Broadway's recent Oklahoma!, played Jenny, the international ballerina Hans falls in love with. MSMT artistic director Charles Abbott directed in Maine. Yeston said Maine was the tryout for the piece, and tweaks and changes were made there, far from the eye of big-city critics and producers.

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Although there have been stage productions of the biographical Andersen movie-musical in the past (the Tommy Steele in London, a dark version in San Francisco in 2001 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, said the project was "a labor of love" and said the entire score for the project is by composer-lyricist Loesser, including interpolations from the late songwriter'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 said he did not add his own music or lyrics to the Loesser show.)

Hans Christian Andersen played Maine Stage Music Theatre in Brunswick, ME, June 4-21, 2003, opening the season. The cast of 35 included a handful of 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 previously 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 novels and plays and stories."

Songs from the popular film are all in the stage show — "Wonderful Copenhagen," "The Ugly Duckling," "Thumbelina," "Anywhere I Wander," "No Two People," "I'm Hans Christian Andersen," "Inchworm." Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was also added.

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. [But] 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."

Following London and after a hoped-for New York life, Yeston expects the property to be licensed and produced around the U.S. on a regular basis, bringing Loesser to a new generation of theatregoer.

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