book by Philip LaZebnik
(based on the original concept of Flemming Enevold)
music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
directed by Scott Schwartz
PCPA (Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts), Solvang Theatrefest, Solvang/through September 25
There have been many theatrical re-imaginings of fairy tales, but hardly a more enchanting one than Stephen Schwartz's new musical My Fairytale now receiving its US premiere in Solvang. A PCPA production which first previewed in Santa Maria, My Fairytale is charming, brilliantly creative fare brought to life by a wildly exciting production team that includes Flemming Enevold, who originally conceived it.
The sheer beauty of Tom Buderwitz's colorful sets, Alejo Vietti's gorgeously detailed costumes, Jennifer 'Z' Zornow's glorious lighting, Michael Jenkinson's fun-filled choreography, Emily DeCola's ingenious puppetry designs, especially in the Duck Yard, and Scott Schwartz's splendid staging all add up to unparalleled visual wizardry that belong in an intimate setting like the one provided by Theatrefest, Solvang. Yes, of course, they will translate to a big Broadway venue, but I wonder whether that is the perfect plan. Sondheim's Into the Woods is so complex and in and out of focus with too many stories. Schwartz's previous work Wicked is assuredly fun but overblown, silly and ever so costly. However, My Fairytale seems so much better than either of these, mostly because the emphasis is on Hans Christian Andersen and the throughline is sensible. As I watched in this production the simplicity of the flight of Hans Christian Andersen, the Boy and Shadow escaping from The Robbers' Cave to the ocean, my thought was, "Oh, God, I can just see it on Broadway, with the men in harnesses flying across the stage" and somehow the whole image became distorted, overdone and I couldn't help but envision a commercial vehicle like Spiderman. Yikes! Let's hope not! This unfettered rendition has all the magic it needs; it's just great now in its present form, with a few minor adjustments in order that I'll allude to later.
Philip LaZebnik has miraculously managed to combine Andersen's stories and fairy tales like The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Emperor and the Nightingale, The Little Match Girl, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen and many, many others into this 2-hour show that has a steady flow and whose simple message is clear, in tact, never out of focus. Andersen (Kevin Cahoon) falls asleep in the Royal Theatre of Denmark, in the mid 1800s, after promising to write an opera for the beautiful soprano Jenny Lind (Lesley McKinnell), and the dream that follows with all the fairy tale characters coming to vivid life through the workings of his imaginative mind, is the essence of the show. He gets trapped and wants to go home like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and must seek the help of the Emperor of China, who, on his death bed, asks him to bring him a nightingale. On the journey with him are an orphaned boy (Marisa Dinsmoor) and Andersen's Shadow (Erik Stein), who wants to lead rather than follow, and eventually becomes the villain, thwarting Andersen's path to success. As in Andersen's real life, his plans to write serious literature for the theatre radically changed and he eventually became, as we all know, one of the most famous fairy tale story tellers of all time. In the 19th century, of course, that type of 'success' was not very highly regarded or even considered successful by the elite. But, art must be in a constant state of change like the culture that inspires it, and there is no better example than Andersen's true-to-life biography.