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2 new musicals will celebrate Andersen

September 05, 2004|Lynne Heffley

Back in 1952, Frank Loesser's score for the Hollywood musical "Hans Christian Andersen" captivated listeners with such songs as "Wonderful Copenhagen" and "Thumbelina." Before long, two new stage musicals based on the life of the Danish fairy-tale writer could spawn a new batch of hits. Both are keyed to a bicentenary bash of global proportions that Denmark is throwing next year to honor its native son on his 200th birthday.

Stephin Merritt, songwriter and leader of the Magnetic Fields, is composing music for "My Life as a Fairy Tale," co-commissioned by New York's Lincoln Center for its "Festival 2005" season in June, with a Danish run to be determined. Chen Shi-Zheng, who collaborated with Merritt on two updated Chinese operas, including this year's REDCAT premiere, "Peach Blossom Fan," is slated to direct.

Meanwhile, veteran Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked") has told fans in his e-mail newsletter, the Schwartz Scene, that he has been tapped to contribute "four or five" songs to another Andersen bio-musical, "My Fairy Tale," written by Philip LaZebnik.

LaZebnik, who worked on two of Schwartz's Disney projects, "Pocahontas" and "Prince of Egypt," now lives in Denmark. Michael Cole, Schwartz's assistant, confirms that the musical will be directed by Flemming Enevold at the Gladsaxe Theatre in Copenhagen, although the dates have yet to be announced.

For its part, the lavish Danish celebration, "Hans Christian Andersen 2005," is scheduled to run from April to December. It will provide "a greater and more nuanced familiarity" with the writer, who was not just a storyteller but someone "with demons, dreams, yearnings and visions ... a man of flesh and blood," according to the bicentenary's official website, hosted by the kingdom of Denmark and the Danish Bikuben Foundation.

The festival will be promoted by scores of royally appointed "Andersen Ambassadors" around the world -- Harry Belafonte and Sir Derek Jacobi among them -- and will encompass myriad domestic and international interpretations of Andersen's life and work through film and television programming, literature, live theater, opera, dance, multimedia presentations, music, museum exhibitions, art installations, educational events and more.

These include 10 new "Symphonic Fairytales" by Danish composers, a solo performance by Canadian film and theater director Robert Lepage -- inspired by Andersen's visit to the 1867 World Expo in Paris and by his fairy tale "The Dryad" -- and Colombian director Enrique Vargas' "fairytale labyrinth," staged by Teatro de los Sentidos.

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