Solvang celebrates its 100th birthday with the American Premiere of a new(ish) musical by Stephen Schwartz of Wicked fame—newish because the Hans Christian Anderson bio-fantasy got its World Premiere six years ago in Copenhagen (to mark the fairy tale master’s bicentennial) and American because the original production was acted and sung in Andersen’s native tongue. Though not on a par with the aforementioned Oztastic megahit, the still highly entertaining My Fairytale benefits from an outstanding cast, breathtaking costuming, beautifully staged production numbers, and a number of instantly hummable Schwartz tunes.


After an opening sequence that has Andersen (Broadway’s Kevin Cahoon) attempting to persuade the folks in charge of Denmark’s Royal Theatre to hire him to compose “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind’s (Lesley McKinnell) next opera, My Fairytale earns its title by sending Andersen down a rabbit hole (actually a trunk filled with dolls and figurines) and into a Wonderland of mermaids, emperors (one sans clothes, another minus a nightingale), a snow queen, a saucer-eyed doggie, an ugly duckling, and twenty mattresses atop a pea. Accompanying Andersen on this journey are his statuesque shadow (Erik Stein) and a pint-sized boy (played gender-convincingly by Marisa Dinsmore), the pair seeming to represent the darker and lighter halves of Andersen’s conflicted soul as he endeavors to determine his path in life.


My Fairytale’s Iliad-like roadtrip-through-fantasyland lacks by its very nature the kind of compelling through-line to keep us emotionally involved in its characters’ lives, and the some of the fairytales referenced are considerably more obscure than, say, those in Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods. Still, with the many plusses mentioned earlier in this review, there is much to applaud in this fantasy adventure.


Scott Schwartz’s imaginative direction and PCPA choreographic gem Michael Jenkinson’s spectacular production numbers, stunningly costumed by Alejo Vietti, provide us with one dazzling fairytale sequence after another.  Though “additional music and lyrics” have been credited to James & Adam Price and the Safri Duo, My Fairytale’s best songs are not surprisingly Stephen Schwartz creations, particularly the soaring Act One and Act Two closers, “On Wings Of A Swan” and “Can You Imagine That?” (For those wishing for a repeat listening, the two are featured on Kevin Odekirk’s excellent CD, Unheard.)


With a half-dozen or so Broadway shows to his credit, Cahoon makes for a thoroughly engaging Andersen, a child-man torn between “serious” dreams and a childlike love of the fantastic. PCPA’s very own talent giant Stein makes for an imposing shadow indeed, the perfect sinister complement to Cahoon’s boyish sparkle, and the pair make for a terrific song-and-dance duo. Dinsmore is a young talent to watch out for. PCPA favorites Karin Hendricks, Andrew Philpot, and Sam Zeller excel in various supporting roles. As for the ensemble (Zachary Bukarev-Padlo, Tracey Leigh Freeman, Sarah Girard, Natasha Harris, Jacqueline Hildebrand, Layli Kayhani, John Keating, Nikko Kimzin, Daniel J. Self, Glenn M. Snellgrose II, Jillian Van Niel, and George Walker), they are each and every one a standout in a multitude of fairytale roles and costume treats. Finally, the ravishing McKinnell (a graduate of CSUF’s prestigious musical theater program and a recent Galinda understudy in the Wicked tour) proves herself here a true star-in-the-making, with a coloratura soprano you’d expect to hear on a major opera stage, a stunning stage presence, and the ability to transform herself from Jenny Lind to shepherdess to mermaid to princess to ice queen and back again.


Musical director Callum Morris and musical coordinator Andrew Fox deserve high marks along with live accompanists Kristin Blascyk, Dave Becker, and Jeanne Shumway, though truth be told, I couldn’t tell you which was live and which was prerecorded (by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra).


My Fairytale proves the very definition of “team effort,” its book credited to Philip LaZebnik (with Flemming Enevold, Stephen Schwartz, Adam Price, and Pierre Westerdahl) based on Enevold’s original idea and concept. In addition to Vietti’s costumes, there’s Tom Buderwitz’s clever set design, featuring Andersen’s words in (presumably) his own handwriting, a leitmotif carried over into a number of costumes. Jennifer ‘Z’ Zornow’s colorful lighting design, Walter T.J. Clissen’s crystal clear sound design, and Emily DeCola’s imaginative puppet design are winners as well. (To get an idea of all of the above, I’ve included a greater than usual number of production stills with this review.) Christine Collins is stage manager and Michael Jackowitz executive producer. Additional names (too numerous to mention) complete the production team.


The Danish town of Solvang provides the perfect setting for My Fairytale. Make plans for a day trip from L.A. (it’s not that far a drive) to enjoy its picturesque charms, then stay for a gorgeous-to-look-at (and to-listen-to) evening of theater.

Festival Theater, 420 2nd Street, Solvang.
–Steven Stanley
August 30, 2011
Photos by Luis Escobar, Reflections Photography Studio and by Clinton Bersuch

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