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"A Fairy Tale Life"

By Darian Maduruh
On April 20, 2012

Once upon a time, I saw a play known as "A Fairy Tale Life: The Story of Young Hans Christian Andersen."

Written by Ernie Nolan, Kean University's Theatre Department first performed their interpretation of the story on March 28 and had a final performance on April 1.

Though the play had come and gone, it stayed in my thoughts for days. No doubt there was more behind the production, which managed to blend Andersen's life and several of his fictional tales together, creating a play both children and adults could like. I had to know more, so like my ancestors before me, I went on an epic quest for answers.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let me regale you with the tale of this fine play.

You see, the play features a teenaged Hans Christian Andersen, a social outcast older than his fellow classmates, who relentlessly mock him.  

He hopes to win a school contest for the most talented student, and along the way, he befriends a boy named Edvard, tells tales of his life (including his late father, mother and grandmother), as well as the stories he would eventually become known for, such as "Thumbelina" and "The Nightingale."

My mission was twofold: In order to complete my journey, I would have to find those associated with the play and inquire about the production.

This quest would not involve slaying a dragon or rescuing a princess, but would harbor a problem just as harrowing: How would I be able to find the cast and crew of the play?

I pondered this as I wandered into the warm and sunny afternoon. I marched over to Vaughn-Eames, encountering no one in particular. I was expecting a long and arduous journey to find anyone associated with the play.

Instead, I found cast members Chris Grimm (who played the lead role of Andersen) and Becca Dagnall (who played Andersen's mother as well as various other roles) as well as Professor Diana Gundacker who taught the "Children's Theatre on Tour" class under which the play was produced, simply conversing with each other. "The Odyssey" this was not.

I approached the trio with something much mightier than the sword, and something much more durable than a shield: A pen and paper, of course. I asked them a simple question: What were some of your favorite fairy tales?

"I would have to say 'The Emperor's New Clothes,'" Grimm answered. "Because it's the funniest, and it has a great lesson as well."

"I actually really like the 'Nightingale,'" responded Dagnall. "It's something that I think children can understand and relate to. And it's fun and ridiculous."

"My favorite fairy tale is 'Thumbelina,'" stated Professor Gundacker. "I like how in our version, we use puppets. In the play, it's the only one that wraps itself up."

I thanked the trio for their time, and moved on. One of my important questions was answered, but this heroic journey was not done.

I still needed one more question answered, and the only one who could answer it was Jenna Rafferty, the director of "A Fairy Tale Life."  I found her and asked her about the personal influences she had put into the play.

"Yes," Rafferty replied. "The Grandma chasing Hans with a spoon was my grandma chasing me when I was little. That was the most personal part."

She mentioned that the reason she chose "A Fairy Tale Life" was because of a recent trip to Copenhagen, which is where Hans Christian Andersen moved to in his teens, and where he ultimately died in 1875, at the age of 70.

Other than the trip and the memories of her grandmother, Rafferty said her cast inspired the other touches.

"Everything else was a team effort," Rafferty explained. "We all played together and worked together."

With that, my quest was done. With my questions answered, I retired to my Valhalla (AKA Burger King), satisfied with the facts learned about this Kean production.


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