Anastasia, the musical, is currently on stage at TPAC’s Jackson Hall through Sunday, March 24, as the first National Tour continues. With book by Terrence McNally (known for everything from Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune and Love! Valor! Compassion! to Ragtime, The Full Monty and Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life), lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Lucky Stiff, Seussical, Ragtime, the aforementioned Chita Rivera musical and more) and music by Aherns’ frequent musical theatre partner, Stephen Flaherty, Anastasia premiered on Broadway spring of 2017, with its first national tour having launched October of last year. Interestingly, the show’s Music City performances come just weeks before the original Broadway run is set to close later this month.
Adapted from both the 1956 Cinemascope spectacle starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brenner, and Helen Hayes, as well as the 1997 feature of the same name from animation legend, Don Bluth (An American Tale, The Land Before Time, and my personal favorite, The Rescuers–when he was still with the House of Mouse), Anastasia tells the tale of an amnesiac orphaned girl known as Anya, who resembles The Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II. Although Anastasia was thought to have perished alongside the rest of her immediate family during a hostile takeover, rumors–or perhaps simply false hope by their loyal subjects–persisted that the young duchess somehow survived. Those rumors lend themselves perfect to a storyline that seemingly combines elements from Cinderella and My Fair Lady as two con men meet Anya by chance and immediately take note of her resemblance to the presumed dead heir to the royal lineage. They quickly began teaching her how to act like a duchess with a plan to present her to the only surviving member of the royal family, The Dowager Empress, in hopes of earning a reward for her safe return.
From the snowfall of one of the show easiest scenes, the visually stunning piece presents true fairytale moment after moment, courtesy of Alexander Dodge‘s sets, Aaron Rhyne‘s incredibly realistic projections, Donald Holder’s mood-enhancing lighting design–he inclusion of illuminated streetlamps within the projected images was absolutely mind-blowingly realistic. Simply regal costuming from Linda Cho and wig/hair creations by way of Charles G. LaPointe all add up to a remarkably beautiful show. The majesty of the look of Anastasia truly rivals any show I’ve ever seen.
Completely unfamiliar with the story, having never seen the aforementioned Bergman mid-century drama, nor the Bluth animated entry (I KNOW, I KNOW), I felt at a bit of a disadvantage going into the show, especially when I spotted more than a couple FAnastasias dressed to the nines in their best attempts at recreating Anastasia’s look. From the enthusiastic applause that greeted the rise of the curtain, I knew I was among appreciative fans.
Directed by Darko Tresnjak, Anastasia presents a grand epic of a story that also cleverly contains smaller, more intimate subplots as it invites the audience to journey from the glory of Nicholas II’s palacial House of Romanov to the horrors of the Bolshevik revolution, then the journey continues across the European continent on to the glory of Paris 1920s.
Among the more visually stunning moments, snow falling outside the palace windows and the opulence of the ballroom sequence are absolutely breathtaking. On the other end of the spectrum, when the peacefulness of the snowfall dramatically morphs into sparks of fire during the attack upon the palace, you can’t help but marvel at the creative team’s talent. Then there’s the cleverness of the train trip to Paris. The train car is constructed in such a way that there are no walls or ceiling to it, alowing the audience full access to the action on-stage. Coupled with the projection of the track and the sweeping landscape passing by as the train continues on it’s journey…sheer genius.
With themes of revolution, rising up and reclaiming one’s lost or forgotten heritage, comparisons to the sweeping epic that is Les Mis are inevitable. Anastasia does have the advantage in the alluded-to spectacular set and projection accomplishments, but the soundtrack is sadly lacking the grandeur of Les Mis.
While a handful of songs: Once Upon a December, A Rumor in St. Petersburg, Learn to Do It, Journey to the Past, Paris Holds the Key and Meant to Be–all originally featured in the musical’s animated counterpart–are in deed audience-pleasing, the majority of the remaining tunes aren’t exactly going to make it onto your playlist after leaving the theatre.
Of the musical highlights, Joy Franz and young Victoria Bingham as The Dowager Empress and Young Anastasia get this off on a high note with the above-referenced show-opening Once Upon A December. It’s such a touching moment and completely serves to set up the relationship between Anastasia and her elder relative, a vital point within the tale’s featured plotline.
Then, when Lila Coogan appears as Anya—the young woman who may or may not be Anastasia—she provides a pleasing performance, especially during her big solo numbers like In My Dreams and the animated film’s FAnastasia favorites.
Another bright, undeniable high point comes in Act Two when Vlad and Lily (one of the conmen and the Dowager Empress’ Lady in Waiting) duet on The Countess and The Common Man. The comedic timing and hilarious physicallity of Tari Kelly as The Countess Lily and Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad during this number evokes memories of Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman during their heyday on The Carol Burnette Show, spoofing many an overly melodramatic film classic. A scene perfectly suited for this show that oftentimes gets a bit bogged down in its own grand airs.
Also worth mentioning are Jason Michael Evans and Stephen Brower as Gleb and Dmitry, two young men, both interested in Anya, but for very different reasons. Every wannabe princess should be so lucky as to have these two handsome, taleneted young men in pursuit.
Also of note, the entire ensemble’s beautiful execution of Peggy Hickey’s magnificent choreography. The previously mentioned ballroom sequence, Act 1’s literally and figuratively hauntingly beautiful ‘ghost’ dance during the Once Upon A December redo featuring Anya and the ensemble, as well as segments featuring traditional Russian dance, and even a snippet of Swan Lake…all performed to perfection.
While Anastasia may lack some of the magic of a certain Mouse’s princess lineup, the sets, costumes and several standout performances are indeed each jewels in the would-be Duchess’ tiara. Anastasia wraps the Music City tour dates with matinee and evening performances Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24 with Saturday matinee at 2p.m., Saturday Evening at 8p.m., Sunday matinee at 1p.m. and a final Sunday evening performance at 6:30p.m. CLICK HERE for tickets, or call the TPAC Box Office at 615.2.782.4040.
Not in Nashville, but interested in seeing Anastasia as the National Tour continues with dates current scheduled through August? CLICK HERE for more information or to purchase tickets. You can also follow Anastasia on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Following Anastasia, TPAC’s Broadway Season continues next with a special 10th Anniversary Tour engagement of Rock of Ages for two days (three performances only), Friday, April 12 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 2p.m. and 8 p.m. CLICK HERE for tickets or more information. You can also discover all the latest from TPAC by checking them out online on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.