Wednesday, July 23, 2003


I have to admit up front that I am not a Danny Kaye fan. He doesn't offend or irritate me, he just doesn't charm or interest me very much. This Kaye musical, although it was very popular in its day, dates rather badly. Kaye plays an almost totally fictionalized version of the famous Danish writer of fairy tales. The total make-believe aspect of the story doesn't bother me; I read a biography of the man a few years ago and his actual sad and frustrating life story does not suggest musicalization. Here, he is presented almost like a character in one of his stories, a shoemaker who loves spending his free time spinning tales to entertain the children of his village. The kids get so wrapped up in his stories that they are regularly late for school so the schoolmaster has him thrown out of town. Kaye and his young apprentice (Joey Walsh) head to the big city of Copenhagen where he winds up captivating more children, and falling in love with a ballerina (Zizi Jeanmaire). The trouble is 1) she's married to her dance director (Farley Granger) and 2) Andersen is socially inept except with children. He witnesses Granger being stern with Jeanmaire and assumes she is stuck in a loveless and violent marriage, so he writes her a story for a ballet, "The Little Mermaid." It turns out that the ballerina and her husband are quite happy (the dynamics of an adult relationship are presented as quite beyond the ken of the childlike Andersen) but the ballet company performs the tale, bringing great fame to the author. There are a couple of songs that became fairly popular, including "Inchworm" and "Thumbelina," and a song called "Wonderful Copenhagen" is quite catchy and is staged in a way that brings to mind "Who Will Buy" in OLIVER! fifteen years later. The "Mermaid" ballet, shown in its entirety, is a bit too long for me but visually has some nice Caligarish touches; it also seems to have been inspired a bit by THE RED SHOES. Overall, the whole thing needs more whimsey--it's too leaden to be successful at what it sets out to do: to tell a fairy tale *about* a writer of fairy tales. Moss Hart had a hand in the screenplay, and the choreographer Roland Petit dances with Jeanmaire in the ballet.

No comments: