With the terrific new musical My Fairytale, Solvang enters its second century through the cosmic portal of Hans Christian Andersen’s imagination. PCPA and producer Michael Jackowitz have assembled a brilliant team to design, direct, and perform the vision supplied by Stephen Schwartz (composer) and Philip LaZebnik (author). Beginning with the lifelong conflict that Andersen experienced between his ambition to produce serious works of theater and his propensity to spin out fairy tales with seemingly childish subjects, the show demonstrates that these aims are not merely compatible but complementary.
Andersen, who is wonderfully played and sung by Kevin Cahoon, crashes a reception for the singer Jenny Lind in the opening scene, only to be rebuffed when he indicates that he would like to write a show for Lind and that he intends to audition for the job by putting on a puppet show. Left alone overnight in the Royal Danish National Theater by the snobby board of directors, Andersen anticipates his scheduled morning meeting with the sympathetic Lind by literally diving into his imagination. After a rousing number called “Andersen’s Shadow,” two figures, Andersen and his Shadow (Erik Stein), tumble into the puppet case, only to emerge moments later in a fantasy world that’s entirely constructed out of the figments of Andersen’s overflowing imagination.
The scenes that director Scott Schwartz and his cast and crew have created for this trip inside Andersen’s mind consistently thrill and delight with movement, music, and drama. Accompanied by his ambitious and enigmatic Shadow, Andersen struggles to return to reality. Along the way, he meets many of the characters we know from his fiction, including a little boy who has lost his father, a role wonderfully played by the young actress Marisa Dinsmoor. As Lind, and then as a succession of characters including a delightful wind-up princess and even the Little Mermaid, Lesley McKinnell is superb, singing brilliantly and giving just the right Glinda-like touch of sparkling wit to her many incarnations. Sam Zeller, Andrew Philpot, and Karin Hendricks all play several principal characters as the fragments of Andersen’s dream-life whirl and coalesce in scene after scene of extraordinary invention and beauty. Scenic designer Tom Buderwitz and costume designer Alejo Vietti have both achieved something very memorable with this tour-de-force production, and their work is amplified in its reach by the marvelous addition of Emily DeCola’s puppets, which are deployed throughout by the ensemble, working both singly and in pairs to manipulate the long rods that animate the many fascinating creatures called forth by the journey.
Schwartz (Wicked) is in fine form throughout as composer, lending his masterful command of the 21st-century Broadway idiom that he virtually invented to the task of bringing Andersen’s creations to life. The final song of Act One, “On the Wings of a Swan,” and the opening number of Act Two, the Little Mermaid’s “Come Drown in My Love,” are particularly memorable, and seem destined to be sung wherever aspiring musical performers are found. The show’s elaborate and energetic choreography by Michael Jenkinson integrates beautifully with both music and puppets to produce a spectacular and unified effect. Whether it becomes a staple of the Solvang calendar for years to come or goes on to regional or even Broadway success, the time to see My Fairytale is now, while the bloom is still fresh on this thoroughly delightful premiere.