Friday, April 28, 2017

Review of "Anastasia"

The following review is adapted from an earlier production of the show at Hartford Stage in Connecticut.

If an audience’s exuberance is any measuring stick, the new Broadway musical Anastasia is a sure-fire hit.  It is a first rate, crowd-pleasing production starring a young heroine that the theater-going, female teenage audience yearns for.

Derek Klena and Christy Altomare in "Anastasia."
Based on the 20th Century Fox animated film, the plot, part history lesson, part Pygmalion, and part fairy tale, centers on two self-confident rascals, Dmitry, a young lad and Vlad, an older gentlemen and former member of the royal court.  They are searching for a young woman to impersonate the Duchess Anastasia.  Rumors abound that she alone survived the murder of her father, Tsar Romanov of Russia, and the rest of her family at the onset of the Russian Revolution.  Her grandmother, living in Paris and believing she is still alive, has offered a handsome reward to anyone locating her lost granddaughter.  By sheer happenstance the pair discover a young lass, Anya, who has amnesia, but resembles Anastasia and curiously knows details of the Romanov household.  After some coaching the three succeed in their perilous journey to Paris to consummate their deceitful intentions.  But a blossoming romance between Dmitry and Anya, a cagey Russian assassin, and a disbelieving Dowager Empress conspire to thwart the well thought through plan.  In the end, a satisfying resolution is reached even as an air of mystery continues to surround the young woman.

Terence McNally’s libretto smartly puts Anya front and center.  She is strong, outspoken, independent, and vulnerable—just what tween and teenage girls, a huge audience for Broadway musicals, want to see.  Act I is concise and flows effortlessly from scene to scene.  Character’s traits and motives are quickly developed, as is the overall arc of the show.  Act II is a bit choppier as scenes, while entertaining, seem somewhat horseshoed into the show as we wait for the two protagonists—Dmitry and Anya—to come together as well as see a verdict on Anya’s origins. 
One of the big production numbers from "Anastasia."
The score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the composing team behind such Broadway shows as Ragtime, Seussical, Once on This Island, and My Favorite Year, is one of the best the duo has written over the last several years.  The songs, augmented from the movie soundtrack, are rooted in a more classical Broadway vein and are tuneful, haunting, and high-spirited.  They are wonderfully sung by the superb group of performers.

The cast is led by Christy Altomare as Anya.  The actress is spunky, courageous, intelligent and beautiful.  She has a powerful voice that literally soars throughout the theater.  Derek Klena, with a self-confident swagger, is convincing as the scheming, big-hearted, and handsome Dmitry.  He and Ms. Altomare have a wonderful chemistry that lights up the stage.  Both John Bolton as Dmitry’s partner in crime, Vlad, and Caroline O’Connor, as Countess Lily, add a pleasing and lively comic touch to the musical.  Ramin Karimloo shows focus and restraint, yet also hesitancy and contradictory emotions as as the Russian official Gleb.  Mary Beth Peil is snobbishly regal, showing pain and heartache, as the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.
Mary Beth Peil and Christy Altomare from "Anastasia."
Darko Tresnjak’s sure-handed direction keeps the action fluid and focused.  The scene changes are quick and straightforward.  He adroitly balances the many tonal qualities of the show—its brashness, suspense, and comic sensibilities--to fashion a rewarding whole. 

The choreography by Peggy Hickey is skillfully incorporated into the musical without being showy or overbearing.  The dances suitably fit within the framework of the time periods and include elegant promenades, jaunty swing steps and comic hoofing.

Aaron Rhyne’s video and projections are some of the finest I’ve seen on a New York stage.  They seamlessly blend into each scene eliciting murmured praise from the audience.  While reproducing lush forests or architectural wonders they never overpower the production or call undo attention to their wizardry.

Alexander Dodge’s scenic design is perfectly in sync with Rhyne’s video projections.  The two create a triumphant, symbiotic whole. 

The costumes by Linda Cho are sumptuous and cover a wide range of styles from aristocratic finery to peasant garbs. 

Anastasia, a gorgeous and gratifying new musical.

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