| May 1, 2017


Broadhurst Theatre, NYC, April 27, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Photos: Mark Murphy

Derek Klena and Christy Altomare

Far away and long ago there was beautiful white palace with Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, four princesses, and a little prince, dressed in silver gowns and uniforms, whirling to glorious waltzes. The youngest princess was named Anastasia. When a band of Bolshevik revolutionaries assailed the palace, killing all the Romanovs and shattering imperial Russia, suggestions surfaced hinting that Anastasia had escaped and survived.

Based on a 1997 Twentieth Century Fox animated musical film and, to a lesser extent on a same-named 1956 live-action motion picture drama from the same movie company (starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner), a “fairy tale” production of Anastasia at the Broadhurst Theatre traces the rumors of the princess’ survival. While Terrence McNally’s adaptation from the 1997 release unravels somewhat unevenly with gaps of uncertainty, the show proves enchanting to a young audience, especially those who are fans of the animated film.

Nicole Scimeca and Mary Beth Peil

Directed smoothly by Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), Anastasia follows the adventures of Anya (Christy Altomare), a confused but plucky street sweeper in St. Petersburg who has amnesia and might—or might not—be Anastasia. Two street-smart con man, Vlad (John Bolton) and his affable young companion, Dimitry, played with energy and dancing prowess by Derek Klena, are confident that Anya is really the lost princess. Dimitry quickly falls in love with her, and he and Vlad vow to help her find proof, which lies with her grieving grandmother, the Dowager Empress, now an émigrée in Paris.

So off they go. Dimitry, Vlad, and Anya set out to flee Russia and reach Paris to find this Empress and the answer to the mystery. Unfortunately, as much as the Dowager Empress adored the young princess, she is hesitant acknowledging the rumor that Anastasia really survived the Bolshevik attack. Even Anya is unsure, although hints of proof slowly emerge.

Ramin Karimloo and Christy Altomare

Since Anastasia is a fairy tale, it needs a villain. This role goes to Gleb (Ramin Karimloo), not the stage’s scariest villain ever, but he is a bad guy just the same. He is a Bolshevik Soviet official ordered to find Anya, wherever she is and, if she is indeed Anastasia, he must bring her back to Russia and kill her. Like Javert in Les Misérables, Gleb shadows the three adventurers, but develops a questionable fascination for the girl, so his personal feelings versus official orders prevent him from coming across as a frightening threat.

Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime) reprise the original songs from the film, most notably “Journey to the Past,” Anya’s lovely ending to Act I. They add numerous new songs, many unmemorable, but others engaging in sweeps of melody and whispers of ethnic Russia, like “Close the Door” sung by the Dowager Empress. Karimloo has a glorious voice, clarion rich in his rendition of “Land of Yesterday.” The Dowager Empress is played with moving eloquence and emotion by regal Mary Beth Peil who opens the show with a nostalgic duet with little Anastasia before the revolt, “Once Upon a December.” They later reprise it, leading the mystery to its finale. Two specialty comic numbers, “The Countess and the Common Man” and “The Press Conference” sung by Vlad and the Duchess’ libertine lady-in-waiting, Countess Lily (Caroline O’Connor), are lively breaks in Act II.

Tresnjak’s directing flows, the splendid costumes by Linda Cho are breathtaking, and the scenic design by Alexander Dodge is exquisite, with fantastic projections by Aaron Rhyne. Peggy Hickey’s choreography is delightful, both elegant and comedic, filling all needs with grace and wit.

An ebullient cast led by Christie Altomare, who sparkles as Anya/Anastasia and Derek Klena as her supportive love interest carry this light family musical drama to its happily-ever-after ending. 

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Category: Broadway Reviews, Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, New York City Musical Theatre Reviews, Regional

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