SALT LAKE CITY — I have always had a deep love for anything Anastasia-related. The 1997 animated film was a favorite growing up, and it lead me to delve as a teenager into multiple projects about the Romanov family and their deaths. “It’s the rumor, the legend, the mystery,” that has intrigued me. Although modern discoveries and forensics have unravel the truth of what happened, I still love the various versions of the story. Anastasia The New Broadway Musical, with book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, excellently incorporates the music us ’90s kids loved so much with more of the true story of the deaths of the Romanov family. The Broadway Across America national touring production, directed by Sarah Hartmann, is currently playing at the Eccles Theatre.
Anastasia is the story of the royal family of Russia at the turn of the 20th century as Russian Revolution overthrow the leadership of the Tsar. The entire family is killed, but rumors begin to circulate that the youngest daughter, Anastasia, survived. Dmitry and Vlad, two con men, decide that their ticket out of this new regime in Russia is to get a girl to pose as Anastasia to her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, who is living in Paris. They come across Anya, a young woman, who is suffering from amnesia and does not know her true past. Dmitry and Vlad convince her to learn more about the Romanov family and to travel with them to Paris to meet with the Dowager Empress.
Anya was played beautifully by Kyla Stone. She did a marvelous job of being believable in the moments where Anya is remembering things. Through her face and body language, Stone shows that Anastasia truly remembers bits of herself, but yet is also struggling to fully recall her past. This contrasted nicely to the moments when, such as in the number “Learn To Do It,” where she is merely reciting the information she has learned from Vlad. I love Stone’s happy energy, which balanced well with her moments of PTSD from flashes from her past. Stone is everything I hope and expect to find in a show of this caliber, from her dedication to her character to her incredible singling talent. She was so endearing and poised, but with just enough spice that it was easy to see why Anastasia wins over others.
Dmitry (played by Sam McLellan) and Vlad (played by Bryan Seastrom) are such a loveable pair of scoundrels. Dmitry is rough around the edges from being a scrapper his entire life, while Vlad is more polished and refined from his days of conning the royal court. The two characters balance each other,and the trio is completed by Anya, who is stubborn enough to take on Dmitry, but refined enough to appreciate Vlad. Her joyous side blends well with the humor that Vlad brings to the show. The audience laughed most during the performance by Vlad and Lily (played by Madeline Raube) of “The Countess and The Common Man.” Although it was a sensual scene, it was also very humorous due to the moments were Seastrom and Raube showed that their bodies weren’t quite as young as they use to be (although they felt like spring chickens).
There were plenty of moments of fun and humor, but this production is a good blend of fun and tragedy. The moments that tell of the awful deaths of the Romanov family were sobering. When the Dowager Empress (played by Gerri Weagraff) learns of their deaths, it is heartbreaking. Also, the song “The Neva Flows” where Gleb (played by Brandon Delgado) shares his memories of that awful execution is powerful and weighty.
One of the things that I loved most about this production was the incredible talent found in the ensemble, not only among the leads. Christian McQueen, who played Tsar Nicholas II and Count Ipolitov, stood out significantly for his solos as Count Ipolitov in “Stay, I Pray.” The power and passion along with his rich voice made that seemingly small role one of my favorite moments of the night. Another standout singer was the bass soloist in “A Rumor in St. Petersburg.” I was also impressed with the extensive dance talent, especially with the Swan Lake Ballet. These performers have all obviously work incredibly hard to become the professionals that they are.
The set for this production was simple in the overall design with the same proscenium arches and legs and backing for the entire show, but the set design (by Alexander Dodge) is an elegant canvas and frame for the elaborate and magical projection designs by Aaron Rhyne. The set is further transformed by the lighting design by Donald Holder. One moment that especially showcased the talents of these three designers was at the ballet. The proscenium legs appeared to be three dimensional theatre boxes, while the lighting turned the arches and frames of the legs to a gorgeous rich wood. The scenic painter in me mourned the loss of doing things old school, but I could not deny the versatility and beauty the projection brought to this production.
I only had a few minor critiques about the production, and they are mainly related to sound. In the opening song I couldn’t hear the little Anastasia (played by Taya Diggs) as she was singing. Another difficult sound moment was during Anya’s and Gleb’s duet of “The Neva Flows.” Gleb sounded great, and then I realized that Anya’s lips were moving but I couldn’t hear her at all.
I enjoyed Anastasia very much. As a lover of the original animated film, I was satisfied to hear my favorite musical numbers again. As a student of the true story of Anastasia, I loved that the real history was better represented in this version. I was impressed with the cohesiveness of the cast and the well rounded talents from in the ensemble. The technical elements were absolutely stunning, but also maintained an edge of simple beauty as well. The national tour of Anastasia is a beautiful production, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it.