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BWW Review: ANASTASIA Brings Romantic Golden Age Style Back To Broadway


No, that's not some forgotten Golden Age musical floating effervescently across the Broadhurst stage, but Anastasia sure has the old-fashioned romantic feel of one. The story of a young woman who may or may not be the presumed dead Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia has been told in many forms before - even as a short-lived 1965 Broadway musical called ANYA - but this new stage adaptation by Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) is surely a welcome variation.

Derek Klena and Christy Altomare
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

In real life, there were many women who, at different times, claimed to be the youngest surviving Romanov, one of the Russian royals who were either displaced or killed with the revolution that created the Soviet Union and turned St. Petersburg into Leningrad. DNA tests in 1994 concluded that Anna Anderson, considered the most convincing of the claimants, was not legit, but the legend was popularized in a 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner. Ahrens and Flaherty penned the songs for a 1997 animated version and have expanded their score for a stage adaptation that takes the tone of a young adult adventure with enough highbrow charms to please the older adults as well.

"You're my favorite. Strong, not afraid of anything," says the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovn (resplendent Mary Beth Peil) to her little granddaughter Anastasia (a fine Nicole Scimeca), the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. It's 1906 and the older woman, who is leaving Russia for Paris, hands her favorite a small music box as a remembrance.

With the sweep of ballroom music, the year turns to 1917 and the title role is now played by Molly Rushing. The formal ball to celebrate her name day is interrupted by explosions from the outside. The revolution has invaded their sanctuary and the Dowager Empress is devastated by a telegram informing her that her entire family has been killed.

After the revolution, Christy Altomare appears as a street sweeper named Anya who has no memory of her past. In time we'll see her as a hearty adventurer with a stirring soprano. When rumors persist throughout the new Soviet Union that Anastasia somehow survived, a pair of would-be Pygmalions, Dmitry (fine singing Derek Klena) and Vlad (John Bolton, with genial old-world humor), come up with the idea of escaping to France, passing Anya off to the Dowager Empress as Anastasia and collecting a few francs for their efforts. While they train Anya for the role, she begins having inexplicable memories of a royal past.

Ramin Karimloo, known on Broadway for playing Jean Valjean in the most recent revival of LES MISERABES, takes on the Javert-like role of Gleb, the Soviet official tasked with silencing the rumors that Anastasia lives. Though his powerful baritone is delivered with grim seriousness, he is a sympathetic character doing what he believes is best for his people. The eventual confrontation between he and Anya is treated in a manner that most likely wouldn't have occurred during the Golden Age. For one thing, the brave and resourceful title character doesn't need anyone to rescue her.

John Bolton, Caroline O'Connor and Company
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Once in Paris, Caroline O'Connor starts stealing the spotlight as the wise-cracking Countess Lily, leading a crew of Russian refugees in a lively nightclub number and comically reliving her romantic past with Vlad in a goofy duet.

Director Darko Tresnjak's charming production is played on designer Alexander Dodge's simple unit set that frames storybook projections by Aaron Rhyne. Linda Cho adds the elegant costumes.

While the story may be told in broad strokes, Anastasia's attractively traditional score, good humor and winning performances make it a family-friendly delight.

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