Despite the talent that has gone into “Hans Christian Andersen: Tales Real & Imagined,” the overall result is rather lethargic. The format is the familiar approach of the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, which has a pattern of combining biography with music. In this case puppetry has been added to the mix in surveying the life and work of Andersen (1805-1875).
Given Andersen’s fairy tales, such as “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Little Mermaid,” puppets might seem appropriate. But although cute and handled with expertise, they prove more of a distraction than adding excitement to the production. Eve Wolf, the writer as well as the company’s executive artistic director, might have done better to concentrate on giving more scope and sparkle to telling the story of Andersen, played with a sincere effort to add impact by Jimmy Ray Bennett.
At times concentrating on the music can be more appealing to an audience. There are two pianists, Carlos Avila and Max Barros, and Shiqi Zhong is the percussionist. Works performed are by Benjamin Britten, Henry Purcell, Arvo Pärt, Samuel Barber and Igor Stravinsky. At the performance I attended Randall Scotting exhibited a magnificent voice as the countertenor, as well as playing Edvard, the object of Andersen’s frustrated desire for a closer relationship. The puppeteers are Craig Marin and Olga Felgemacher.
Vanessa James has provided the scenic and costume design, with the set including a center stage proscenium, and a loft into which Andersen climbs as part of suggesting one of the fairy tales referenced.
The play, directed by Donald T. Sanders, encompasses the honors that Andersen, born in Denmark, received in his lifetime, as well as sadness in his life, illustrated, for example, by the death of his mother and the difficulty he had in forming satisfying relationships. But the overall effect is sketchy. In contrast, the work of this interesting company that I thought came across best was “Tchaikovsky—None But the Lonely Heart.” (See Search for review.) At the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street. Phone: 646-223-3010. Reviewed May 7, 2019.