By LAUREL GRAEBER (NYT) 917 words
Published: December 12, 2003
Applauding Mr. Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen was not a sentimental writer. (Just compare his ''Little Mermaid'' with the Disney version.) But he did acknowledge the possibility of grace in the lives of his characters, and the potential for wisdom, which was often most prized because it was hard won.
Aleksey Burago is now presenting ''Ah, My Dear Andersen!,'' his adaptation of four Andersen stories, at Urban Stages in Manhattan. Intimately staged and visually stunning, this production uses inventive costumes by Nadia Fadeeva to transform actresses into everything from selfish mice to a Christmas tree.
The first half of the 90-minute show is devoted to Andersen's more familiar side. ''The Nightingale'' examines the foolishness of a Chinese emperor who does not understand the difference between pure beauty and artifice. With Colm Clark's incidental music, which evokes bird song and Asian rhythms, it celebrates the natural splendor of the nightingale. This is followed by ''The Ugly Duckling,'' whose heartbreak is relieved by its happy ending and Mr. Burago's comic touches, which include perching an actress atop an egg so huge that she almost falls over.
Expect no soothing after intermission; it's easy to see why Disney et al. stay away from the latter two tales. ''The Fir Tree'' concerns an evergreen that achieves its wish -- to be a Christmas tree -- only to end up where all Christmas trees do. ''The Top and Ball (The Sweethearts),'' about one toy's unrequited affection for another, is a brief meditation on the follies of love. Its simplicity is like a tiny, finely honed blade.
Because of its sensibilities, ''Ah, My Dear Andersen!'' is not for children under 5. The stars -- Snejana Chernova, Nysheva-Starr, Marissa Lichwick and Erica Newhouse -- are wonderfully versatile but sometimes ham it up. The broad brush strokes aren't necessary; Andersen's exquisite miniatures stand on their own.
Ready, Set, Act!