Broadway Review: ‘Anastasia,’ The Musical

Anastasia Broadway
Matthew Murphy

Young women and girls in search of a new Broadway role model need look no further than the title character in “Anastasia,” the sumptuous fairy tale of a musical that should please the kids, satisfy the sentimental and comfort those who thought the old templates for musical comedy were passé. The broad strokes of the familiar — a romantic young couple, a villain in hot pursuit, comic supporting characters, an endearing family member  —  can still be irresistible when combined with taste, craftsmanship and a willing suspension of disbelief.

Director Darko Tresnjak, who earned a Tony for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,”  and much of the first-class design team from that production, weave an enchanting spell targeted to young distaff audiences — a built-in demographic that should reap plenty of rubles both here, on the road and abroad.

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The musical is “inspired” by 20th Century Fox’s 1997 animated film and the 1956 movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner — which had a decidedly more mature script by Arthur Laurents (based on a Marcelle Maurette play adapted by Guy Bolton) — as it tells the story of Anya (Christy Altomare), a young amnesiac in post-Revolution Russia who is convinced by street Svengalis Dmitry (Derek Klena) and Vlad (John Bolton) that she is Czar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter, who is rumored to have escaped her family’s fate.

Anya is groomed to present herself to the surviving royal grandmother (Mary Beth Peil) and aide, Countess Lily (Caroline O’Connor), now living in Paris, so that she can claim the crown and the cons can get their reward.

Songwriters Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who penned the tunes for the animated film and earned an Oscar nomination for the popular anthem “Journey to the Past,” reprise their duties here, adapting their melodic (if exposition-crammed) score to the stage. New numbers have been added to pump up emotions, excitement and comic shtick, and to fill in the gaps in the refashioned and expedient-to-a-fault script by Terrence McNally.

The musical has been sharpened since its premiere at Hartford Stage last year with more sophisticated staging for the second-act opener. Major credit going to Aaron Rhyne’s hi-def projections, which bring a sense of cinematic sweep and depth to the show. Also beefed up is the part of Gleb, the musical’s autocratic-yet-conflicted Bolshevik, played with a dark dreaminess and clarion pipes by Ramin Karimloo.

But some of the show’s head-scratchers remain: A scene in which Anya decides her future after advice from her nana still seems musically empty. Gleb’s initial attraction to Anya remains wafer thin. And having Anya embrace her common hero while running through the Paris streets in a satin gown and tiara is not only absurd but sends a mixed message at the musical’s end. (But who can blame the girl for not wanting to give up one of Linda Cho’s many breathtaking outfits?)

As the young woman who finds not only her identity but sense of self, Altomare takes the spotlight with the same assured conviction with which Anya takes the crown. And if thoughts of Julie Andrews pop up on occasion, it isn’t inappropriate — or undeserved, given Altomare’s vocal strength and the “My Fair Princess” theme.

Klena fills in the generic hero outline with boyish charm, humor and a gorgeous voice. Though there are no real romantic duets for the leads, they make a perfect pair and strike a special bond with “In a Crowd of Thousands,” an unexpected emotional highlight.

As the Dowager Empress, Peil brings imperial gravitas, as well as a grandmother’s heartbreak and joy to the role. Bolton’s count-turned-con and O’Connor’s libidinous lady-in-waiting score big with their comic turns. Their mad ham waltz, “The Countess and the Common Man,” is delightfully staged by Peggy Hickey, whose choreography includes a rousing expat number “Land of Yesterday,” as well as a bit of “Swan Lake” and lots of swirling ghosts around Alexander Dodge’s elegant set, exquisitely lit by Donald Holder and enhanced by Peter Hylenski’s vivid sound design.

In this alt-reality, history is rewritten, a princess finds her bliss — and an old-fashioned musical likely lives happy ever after.

Broadway Review: 'Anastasia,' The Musical

Broadhurst Theater; 1,156 seats; $169 top; opens April 24, 2017; reviewed April 21, 2017. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production

A presentation by Stage Entertainment, Bill Taylor, Tom Kirdahy, Hunter Arnold, 50 Church Street Productions, The Shubert Organization, Elizabeth Dewberry & Ali Ahmet Kocabiyik, Carl Daikeler, Van Dean/Stephanie Rosenberg, Warner/Chappell Music, 42nd.club/Phil Kenny, Judith Ann Abrams, Broadway Asia/Umeda Arts Theater, Harriet Newman Leve, Peter May, David Mirvish, Sandi Moran, Seoul Broadcasting System, Sara Beth Zivitz, Michael Stotts, LD Entertainment/Sally Cade Holmes, Jay Alix & Una Jackman/Blumegreenspan, Carolyn and Marc Seriff/Bruno Wang and Silva Theatrical Group/Adam Zell, and executive producer Eric Cornell and produced in association with The Hartford Stage Company; commissioned by Dmitry Bogachev of a musical in two acts with book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, inspired by the motion picture by 20th Century Fox.

Creative

Directed by Darko Tresnjak. Choreographed by Peggy Hickey. Musical Direction by  Thomas Murray. Sets, Alexander Dodge; costumes, Linda Cho; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Peter Hylenski; projection design, Aaron Rhyne; orchestrated, Doug Besterman; vocal arrangements, Stephen Flaherty; dance arrangements, David Chase; production stage manager, Bonnie Panson.

Cast

Christy Altomare, Derek Klena, Ramin Karimloo, John Bolton, Mary Beth Peil, Caroline O’Connor, Constantine Germanacos, Allison Walsh, Kyle Brown, James A. Pierce III, Zach Adkins, Sissy Bell, Lauren Blackman, Janet Dickinson, Wes Hart, Ken Krugman, Shina Ann Morris, Molly Rushing, Nicole Scimeca, Johnny Stellard, McKayla Twiggs, Allison Walsh, Beverly Ward.

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  1. crystal says:

    couldnt believe the cast decision for Anastasia.
    Paid a lot of money but didnt mind because Anastasia was one of my favorite childhood animation. But as the show went on….i couldn’t believe what I was listening to. Christy Altomare had no strength in her voice, fee times couldnt even hear her voice because she couldnt overcome the orchestra playing below her. I think she was more meant to sing as a pop artist not a musical star. I saw most of the Broadway shows but this was another level of disappointment. I would not recommend any adult women to go and watch this. I assume kids and young girls may enjoy the romance and all but overall as a audience I wish the producers could have put in more effort in casting for the right person to play Anastasia…not based in looks (not even sure if that s what they were trying accomplish anyway) but based on talent first. out of 10 my rating is 3

  2. Sabrina says:

    I happened to really enjoy the animated movie version of this story, even though it isn’t the most historically accurate version of the tale. The play missed the mark for me and though some may not like the animated version, it had things that I truly missed when I was watching Anastasia live. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact that personalities, relationships, and connections within the story had changed drastically. Yes, I do know that we cannot base our understanding of Anastasia as a person on a cartoon, but the way the movie portrayed her was far superior to that of the play. The movie showed a girl who was strong and committed to finding herself; she wasn’t perfect or princess-y, she was relatable. In the movie, I loved the banter between her and Dimitri, who she was never afraid to counter and needed time to trust, which is realistic! Instead, the play gave me a romance that didn’t develop properly (like the main characters) and felt cheesy at times. A part that made me cringe is when Anastasia cries “I’m not as strong as you think I am.” I understand that they’re trying to show that we’re all human and we all break down, but I can’t forgive this being that throughout the entire play I was waiting for some spark that would ignite her bold personality, but instead was left feeling that she was just waiting for her fairy tale ending. Maybe that’s just because too much time was given to minor characters, which took away from the main storyline. I do have to say, the sets were beautiful and the way they changed how Anastasia and Dimitri knew each other remained touching. However, there were many other little things that were changed or not executed well and I can really go on, but overall, I wish the play would’ve made me feel something like the movie did. I understand I saw a musical and actors will be theatrical, but their overdramatic portrayal made me remember that I was watching a play being performed instead of pulling me into the story and feeling their emotions with them.

  3. Mark says:

    The best thing one could say about this is it’s FAR better than the awful don bluth cartoon. Or better than ANY don bluth cartoon–which are all pretty awful.

  4. Louis G. says:

    Give me a break. I saw this in a preview. Another Broadway fluff and dandy, all white people, boring musical. They should have titled it Amnesia instead of Anastasia. Or Insom-na-mia to give it a twist to keep the audience awake. The show was produced by 50 people looking for a Tony. The show is perfect for a cruise. Like paired down to a running time of 45 minutes on one of those dreadful ships carrying about 9000 passengers. It’s so Cruising Theater. Can I get my money back?

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