Wirtz performs new musical about Hans Christian Andersen


Isabel Funk/The Daily Northwestern

The cast rehearses a scene in which Hans Christian Andersen accepts his father’s name after refusing to go by Hans for much of his life. The musical was written by Timothy Allen McDonald.

Isabel Funk, Reporter

As he lay on stage, dying in his quilt-covered bed, Hans Christian Andersen’s father requested that his son tell him a story. Accompanied by both his parents, fairytale writer Andersen sang his story, “The Ugly Duckling.”

Dressed in bright colors, the trio of actors danced before a row of colorful houses. When Andersen finished telling the story of “The Ugly Duckling,” his father told him he had always been a swan. The scene ended and the actors and actress exited the stage.

This summer, the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts will perform the new musical, “Hans Christian Andersen,” with a cast of eight and a seven-person orchestra pit playing around 17 instruments. The show runs July 13 through 28.

“Hans Christian Andersen” tells the story of the Danish author who wrote well-known stories such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Thumbelina.”

The musical alternates between scenes following Andersen’s youth and his fairytales. It also features interruptions that clarify the historical accuracy of the drama.

Guest artist Jessy Yates, a 25-year-old masters student at Yale University who uses a wheelchair, joined the cast to play a role written for a wheelchair user. Bienen senior Pablo Laucerica, who plays Andersen, said he found it refreshing to see a person with a disability play a character who also has one.

The musical is based on the 1952 movie of the same name, scored by Broadway composer Frank Loesser. When playwright Timothy Allen McDonald saw the music was being forgotten, he wrote a new musical. He based it on the original score and Loesser’s trunk songs — songs that were never used in a musical, said Collins.

“This play is a love letter to the artform of storytelling,” Collins said.

After seeing a staged production of the musical, Collins said he “fell in love with the piece,” and McDonald agreed that Collins should direct a developmental production at Northwestern, which helps the playwright envision the execution of the musical and work out any issues. Laucerica said he felt bringing back the music was the most exciting part of the musical.

“I want them to be reminded about what makes that movie so special, what makes this character so special and to introduce new songs,” Laucerica said.

The cast began working in early June and has been rehearsing nearly every day, said actor Elijah Warfield (Communications ’19). Warfield plays multiple characters, including Andersen’s father, the king of Denmark, and Gregors, a fried herring vendor. With a cast of only eight, many of the actors take on more than one part, which Collins said allows every actor and actress to shine.

“I wish there was a second showing of the show where you watch backstage because it’s amazing how entertaining the backstage is. It is just as fun as being on stage,” Warfield said.

During the week leading up to the show’s premiere, rehearsals included full costumes, lighting and sound. Before running through the show, the cast worked with the choreographer on scenes that need more attention, Warfield added.

Later, they returned to the stage with microphones and costumes. Each character has their own color scheme, from bubblegum pink to dandelion yellow. Laucerica said that each character’s costume shows their personality and background.

Many of the people involved said working on the play was a rewarding experience.

“It is a tribute to ugly ducklings and people who feel like outsiders,” said Northwestern theater Prof. Rives Collins, the play’s director. “It celebrates that moment when people discover their own beauty within as he was able to do over the course of his life.”

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