Review: ‘Anastasia’—A Little Girl’s Dream Comes True
By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, April 25, 2017
Walking into the Broadhurst Theatre I felt like a little girl at Christmas. I was finally going to see my favorite childhood movie come to life onstage. Anastasia, directed by Darko Tresnjak, boasting a book by Terrence McNally with music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, may be the next movie-to-stage musical for some, but for an entire generation of young women, it is so much more.
For those who don’t know the story of Anastasia, the show begins in 1906 prior to the Russian Revolution. Here, Anastasia (played by three actresses, little Anastasia: Nicole Scimeca; young Anastasia: Molly Rushing; adult Anastasia: Christy Altomare) is around six-years-old, living in Russia where her royal family, the Romanovs, are revered and respected. With a storm of political unrest brewing among the Russian people, in the middle of the night the Romanovs are taken off by soldiers and executed, with no one supposedly having survived the attack. But then rumors begin swirling around St. Petersburg that one daughter, Anastasia, managed to thwart the soldiers. The rumors are denied by the new Russian government, especially new commander Gleb (Ramin Karimloo).
Despite the denials, the rumors lead to Anastasia’s grandmother, the Dowager Empress (Mary Beth Peil), to offer a reward for the safe return of her granddaughter and hundreds of actresses immediately begin making themselves into the lost Romanov daughter. While the Empress turns away Anastasia after Anastasia, a young woman in Russia appears on a street corner. She can’t remember her real name but goes by Anya. She also can’t remember who her family was, but she knows she did have one once and sets off to rediscover who she actually is with some help from friends, Dmitry (Derek Klena) and Vlad (John Bolton).
Original songs from the animated film such as “A Rumor In St. Petersburg,” “Journey to the Past,” “Once Upon a December” and “Learn To Do It” remain intact, but they are given new meaning after being placed in a new order. “Journey to the Past” originally was one of the first three songs in the movie version. Now both “Once Upon a December” and “Learn to Do It” come before it, but the song still stands out as the finale of Act 1, signifying the beginning of Anya’s transformation. There are also new songs. One in particular is a number between Anya and Dmitry called “In a Crowd of Thousands,” where Anya and Dmitry realize that they met when they were both ten-years-old when Dmitry waved at Anya as she passed in a carriage during a parade with her family. The song changes the original story of Dmitry working in the palace and saving Anastasia and her grandmother, but the song is so powerfully emotional that the story change doesn’t matter—all we want to see is the couple walking off into the sunset, happily ever after.
Absent from this version is the character of Rasputin, who is replaced by Gleb, and played fantastically by Karimloo. The son of a soldier who shot the Romanovs, Gleb is consumed with making the New Russia greater than ever before. Once he hears that a Romanov daughter may have managed to escape, he puts all of his energy into tracking her down and ending the Romanov line forever. But one thing he didn’t count on was that he may not be exactly like his father, and has to learn that those tactics may not always be the answer.
There is a good deal of moving around in the story—starting out in Russia and winding up in Paris, France. Making all of this believable is the amazing color digital imagery appearing on the main set pieces designed by Alexander Dodge with projections by Aaron Rhyne. The set design is simple, but two rotating wall panels become a canvas for the projections, bringing the story to life even more. The Romanovs were known for their elegant gowns and crowns, and those have been fully realized in the costumes by Linda Cho, as well as the stark contrast of the peasant garb of the day.
Despite the changes from the animated film Anastasia, I left the theatre satisfied and happy. With such a strong leading female character, Anastasia empowers women to follow their heart’s desires and not think twice about it. The character was a role model for my generation, and I hope for many more to come.
Anastasia at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Streeet, first preview on March 23, 2017 and opened on April 24, 2017 for an open run. Book by Terrence McnNally; music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Inspired by motion pictures by Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Darko Tresnjak; choreography by Peggy Hickey; scenic design by Alexander Dodge; costume design by Linda Cho; lighting design by Donald Holder; sound design by Peter Hylenski; projection design by Aaron Rhyne; hair and wig design by Charles G. Lapointe; makeup design by Joe Dulude; musical supervisor and music director/conductor: Tom Murray; orchestrations by Doug Besterman; vocal arrangements by Stephen Flaherty. Cast: Christy Altomare, Derek Klena, John Bolton, Ramin Karimloo, Caroline O’Connor, Mary Beth Peil, Zach Adkins, Sissy Bell, Lauren Blackman, Kyle Brown, Janet Dickinson, Constantine Germanacos, Wes Hart, Ken Krugman, Shina Ann Morris, James A. Pierce III, Molly Rushing, Nicole Scimeca, Johnny Stellard, Allison Walsh, Beverly Ward, Kathryn Boswell, Kristen Smith Davis, Ian Knauer, and Dustin Layton.
Cover: Christy Altomare and Derek Klena in ‘Anastasia;’ photo: Matthew Murphy.