Anastasia: Big, Beautiful Broadway-Bound Musical

 

By Amy J. Barry

Anastasia at Hartford Stage is a breathtaking spectacle of a new musical that tells the fantastical story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, whose entire family was assassinated during the Russian revolution of 1917. But the premise the play is based on is whether Anastasia survived (although modern DNA testing proves otherwise) or the young woman claiming to be her is an imposter.

From a technical standpoint this is a flawless production: visually exquisite, mesmerizing, enchanting. A team of top-notch designers: set (Alexander Dodge), lighting (Donald Holder), video and projection (Aaron Rhyne), and sound (Peter Hylenski) collaborated in a stunning implementation of the newest technology to create a century-old Russian legend replete with sumptuous period-correct costumes by Linda Cho.

And yet, the show still smacks of the animated 1997 Disney musical movie it’s based on that was based on the 1956 20th-century Fox film, featuring a princess and a fairly simplistic plot in which good overcomes evil with a few interesting twists along the way and a fair share of schmaltz.

But that’s quite all right if you don’t judge the production purely by adult audience standards. It was actually quite refreshing to attend a theatrical performance in Connecticut that wasn’t dominated by the usual older crowd, but included excited, enthusiastic youngsters -- many girls were dressed up as princesses -- Iphones off, experiencing the magic of live theater with their parents and grandparents.

The two-and-a-half hour musical plus one intermission runs like clockwork under the very capable direction of Darko Tresnjak, beautifully complemented by Peggy Hickey’s creative choreography and Thomas Murray’s impeccable musical direction of an outstanding orchestra.

Mostly told in song, with such notable numbers by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) from the Disney movie as “Once Upon a December,” “Journey to The Past,” and “Paris Holds the Key (to Your Heart) plus more than a dozen new songs to flesh-out the full-scale musical.

The show opens with Anastasia at age six (performed by the precious Nicole Scimeca) and her beloved Nana, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in a marvelous performance by Mary Beth Piel.

After the death of her family, the child Anastasia disappears and is replaced by the amnesic orphan Anya (Christy Altomare) who may or may not be the youngest daughter of Nicholas II. She is joined by opportunists Vlad (John Bolton) and Dmitry (Derek Klena) who want to capitalize on their discovery of the “real” Anastasia. They turn out not to be such bad guys after all, and the charming Dmitry follows his heart and higher principles in the end.

Altomare is a great role model for young women as the un-frilly princess (until the end) -- strong-willed and self-assured, not just grieving for what she’s lost but bravely searching out her identity, the meaning of her life. She has a beautiful, powerful voice to carry her more sung than spoken lines.

The entire cast and company of this show gives a stellar performance and there is enough biting humor, and allusions to the dark history and corrupt politics of the Bolshevik regime to engage the adults in the audience.

And, who, at any age, isn’t captivated by snowflakes falling in a starry winter night while a little girl and her nana sit together on her bed in a grand palace, delighted by the sounds emanating from an ancient music box? Who is too jaded to be swept away by a train full of people speeding through the countryside singing in perfect harmony or dazzled by a glittering scene of Paris at night, the Eiffel Tower majestically looming in the background?

One hardly has to suspend disbelief.

Anastasia is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through June 19. Tickets and information online at www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com.


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