Review Roundup: Have You Heard? ANASTASIA Opens on Broadway Tonight!
From the Tony Award-winning creators of the Broadway musical RAGTIME, the dazzling new musical Anastasia transports us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920's, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing con man and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love and family.
ANASTASIA opens on Broadway tonight at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 West 44th Street). The company is led by Christy Altomare, Derek Klena, John Bolton, Ramin Karimloo, Caroline O'Connor, and Mary Beth Peil.
The cast also includes Zach Adkins, Sissy Bell, Lauren Blackman, Kathryn Boswell, Kyle Brown, Kristen Smith Davis, Janet Dickinson, Constantine Germanacos, Wes Hart, Ian Knauer, Ken Krugman, Dustin Layton, Shina Ann Morris, James A. Pierce III, Molly Rushing, Nicole Scimeca, Jennifer Smith, Johnny Stellard, Mckayla Twiggs and Allison Walsh.
ANASTASIA features a book by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally, and a brand new, original score from Tony Award winners Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), featuring several of the most beloved songs from the 1997 animated film. Tony Award-winning director Darko Tresnjak directs.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Those mid-20th-century musicals that must've sounded like a good idea at the time, but tend to be remembered today only by hard-core aficionados of the genre. They were frothy but earnest shows, set in distant times and foreign lands, with titles like "Mata Hari" and "Pleasures and Palaces." Such shows had a hard time squeezing their epic-size selves into the corsets of book-musical conventions, and they usually died young. I don't foresee a similar fate for "Anastasia," which originated at Hartford Stage in Connecticut and is directed by Darko Tresnjak (a Tony winner for his ingenious staging of "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"), with choreography both stately and antic by Peggy Hickey. The cartoon version from 1997 is very fondly remembered by people who saw it as tweens, especially girls. Its Ahrens-Flaherty score included the breakout hit "Journey to the Past," which is repurposed here and sung ardently by Ms. Altomare. So "Anastasia" may well tap into the dewy-eyed demographic that made "Wicked" such an indestructible favorite of female adolescents. Those without such nostalgic insulation are likely to find this "Anastasia" a chore.
Matt Windman, amNY: Combine early 20th-century Russian history with bits and pieces of "Les Miz," "My Fair Lady" and "Newsies," and you've got "Anastasia," the uneven but well-meaning and mostly pleasant new Broadway musical based on the 1997 animated film of the same title from 20th Century Fox.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: As Anastasia piles discovery upon discovery, the happiest surprise is how consistently good the musical turns out to be. Smartly adapted by Terrence McNally from the 1997 animated film and the 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie-with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens impressively expanding their score from the former-Anastasia is a sweeping adventure, romance and historical epic whose fine craftsmanship will satisfy musical-theater fans beyond the show's ideal audience of teenage girls. (When I saw it, a second-act kiss was greeted with deafening shrieks of approval.)
Caitlin Brody, Entertainment Weekly: Released in 1997, Anastasia was a dazzling 94-minute animated movie musical. Twenty years later, it's a fidget-inducing, two-and-a-half-hour Broadway musical, with a production not nearly animated enough to warrant that running time.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Alas for imperial Russia and the family of Czar Nicholas II, the 17-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna was murdered in 1918 by the Cheka, Vladimir Lenin's secret police. But since princesses have a unique ability to skate above republican sentiment and the harsh realities of forensic science, the legend of a surviving Anastasia has lived on in popular culture, most famously as a 1997 animated musical film, scored by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and wherein Anastasia was voiced by Meg Ryan, she whom no Bolshevik could ever suppress. Now Anastasia has reappeared on Broadway, the centerpiece of a new musical that works quite delightfully when the star is center stage, and struggles mightily when she is off in the wings, where the charming Christy Altomare spends far too long.
Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant: In its yearlong journey from Hartford to Broadway, "Anastasia" has found itself. When this sweet-natured musical of self-discovery premiered a year ago at Hartford Stage, it was just as lush and romantic, but underneath those gorgeous trappings it seemed uneven, insincere, unsure of itself. At the Broadhurst Theatre, where it opened Monday night, the show is now fluid, smooth and clear-headed. "Anastasia" has not fundamentally changed. But dozens of small fixes have made it a much sharper show. Had the Hartford Stage version hurried to Broadway sooner without these tweaks - or heaven forbid, had not tried out in Hartford at all - the show's stylistic inconsistencies would have doomed it. It speaks and sings now with a stronger voice.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: The key selling point of this pretty but anodyne musical, which ends up being more satisfying than the sum of its parts. It's a fairy-tale whose princess chooses her own kind of prince, a destiny foretold in the stirring shared childhood recollection of Dmitry and Anya, "In a Crowd of Thousands." It's kitschy, old-fashioned entertainment given a relatively sophisticated presentation, and you have to acknowledge its success when you hear the target demographic swoon on cue.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Terrence McNally's book goes through so many contortions on the subject of Anastasia. She is the royal daughter. She isn't the daughter. She is, then she isn't again. But then why does this Russian girl know so much about the Romanovs' pet cat and why is there a diamond the size of the Ritz sewn into her rag of an overcoat? Also unexplained is where Anya/Anastasia learned to jump from trains a la Tom Cruise and defend herself (and her boyfriend) by kicking men in the nuts. No Disney princess ever did that before! As the two lovers, Christy Altomare and Derek Klena display pretty singing voices, and otherwise show as much depth as the animated-film characters their roles are based on.
ElizaBeth Bradley, Broadway News: It could be observed in terms of the physical production that nothing succeeds like excess. The drop dead gorgeous costumes are by Linda Cho. It is a good thing that the Russian court ensemble featured in the opening of the musical are brought back multiple times in ghostly re-enactments because we needed more than one look at them. This excellent ensemble variously deployed as members of The Ballet Russe, White Russian society and revolutionary thugs execute choreography by Peggy Hickey that is always mood and period appropriate. Alexander Dodge's set creates a multi-purpose gracious framing for extensive projections by Aaron Rhyne. But here once again neither a subtle nor consistent aesthetic applies. Some of the visuals are alluringly abstract while others are hyper realistic. Acres of saturated red backdrop places us in the revolution, in case we had any doubt. Snow falls and stars twinkle and flowers bloom in the eventual spring so copiously it is as though we have detoured to Oz. In aural complement, it often feels as though the show is scored like a film, such as when a chorus helpfully underpins a tense moment with a drawn gun.
Dave Quinn, NBC New York: Broadway's got a bright new star, and her name is "Anastasia." The 1997 beloved animated movie has been transformed into a magical new stage musical, now open at the Broadhurst Theatre, with a much-improved book by Terrence McNally, added songs from the film's composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and a star-making performance by actress Christy Altomare. Fans of the original 20th Century Fox flick (who call themselves "Fanastasias") will surely be satisfied with the offering, while those who skipped the cartoon should realize this isn't the fairy tale fluff they might have initially assumed it to be.
Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: Alexander Dodge's luscious backdrops of St. Petersburg and Paris aided by Donald Holder's lighting are more seductive than the best travel poster. Aaron Rhyne's deliciously dizzying projection designs whoosh us through the countryside as they take the train to Paris and then up the elevator inside the Eiffel Tower. Linda Cho's costumes convince us that royalty really do live superior lives. Peggy Hickey's choreography is most noticeable during a sizeable sequence in which we are offered an exquisite ballet from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Among the standouts in the cast are Mary Beth Peil, who may be a familiar face on TV (the governor's sassy mother in The Good Wife) and on stage (her Anna in The King and I in 1985 the first of eight roles on Broadway.) But her performance as the Empress Dowager offers the sort of jolt that accompanies a new discovery. Her voice is strong, her feelings clear; she makes you weep for a Romanov, a neat trick.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: If you are particular about Russian political and cultural history, you might want to be gripping a stress ball before taking your seat at the musical Anastasia on Broadway. If you want to watch a proudly old-school Broadway musical with the best snow effects ever (thank you, projection designer Aaron Rhyne), however, then no stress balls needed. Despite a closing curtain of narrative ambiguity, this lushly orchestrated, gently delightful musical, directed by Darko Tresnjak, takes the view that the famous daughter of the Romanovs did survive the massacre of the Russian imperial family at the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1918, and-having fallen in with a loveable conman and louche aristocrat-sets off for Paris to prove her identity to her surviving grandmother.
Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Daily News: A young woman with no memory tries to find out who she is in the new Broadway musical "Anastasia." The show, despite being filled with some very good songs and performances, suffers from its own identity crisis. It's got a split personality and is torn between whether it's serious drama or frothy musical comedy. One wishes that the creative team - the same one behind "Ragtime" - of Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) had found a way to make it cohesive and more balanced.
Linda Winer. Newsday: Now "Anastasia," inspired by the 1956 Ingrid Bergman film but mostly the 1997 animation, does have plenty of snow - lovely fat snowflakes that flit like fireflies behind the semicircle of graceful windows (designed by Alexander Dodge) that twirl and reveal scenes from St. Petersburg to Paris. This one also has a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who wrote the music for the cartoon that catapulted the song, "Journey to the Past," to pop stardom. For the Broadway version, they have teamed up with playwright Terrence McNally, their collaborator for the far superior "Ragtime." More power ballads have been added to the pretty but dispiritingly predictable story of Anastasia, the princess who, as rumor once had it, may have escaped the revolution's firing squad as a child in 1918.
Danny Groner, Huffington Post: If you judged Anastasia from the excitement from fans both outside and inside the theater leading up to the curtain rising, you'd surmise this was a franchise that carried a generation. In reality, although this is the Broadway debut of the show, the story dates back to the 1997 animated movie that accounts for the nostalgic look back that so many young adults were experiencing. If you missed the sensation at that time, and in the interim decades, it's difficult to imagine what the devotees saw in this film that left them so indelibly impacted. For them, this show surely brought them back to a childhood fantasy. For the rest of us, however, it doesn't live up to the hype.
Frank Rizzo, Variety: Young women and girls in search of a new Broadway role model need look no further than the title character in "Anastasia," the sumptuous fairy tale of a musical that should please the kids, satisfy the sentimental and comfort those who thought the old templates for musical comedy were passé. The broad strokes of the familiar - a romantic young couple, a villain in hot pursuit, comic supporting characters, an endearing family member - can still be irresistible when combined with taste, craftsmanship and a willing suspension of disbelief.
Mark Shenton, The Stage: The Oscar-nominated hit from the original movie, Journey to the Past, as well as Once Upon a December are the stand-outs here, though they've been augmented by nearly 20 new songs. Other significant changes from the film see the character of Rasputin replaced by a vengeful Russian police sergeant called Gleb, who is determined to fulfil his father's mission to destroy the Russian royal family. He's played by Ramin Karimloo - the Iranian-born musical star who first came to prominence in the West End - with impressive authority and strong vocals.
Jesse Green, Vulture: It bewilders me that in making stage musicals from animated or otherwise fantastical movies, adaptors seem to think they can remain outside history. Perhaps the creative team of Anastasia held meetings whose agenda items included such items as Finessing the Romanovs. (There is exactly one reference to their possible contribution to Russia's problems.) You see why this must have seemed necessary; otherwise, Anastasia's self-discovery could not be the climax of her hero's journey, and her beautiful tiara might seem a tad undeserved, even to the Fanastasias. All her sorrowful warbling about the past - well sung, if little else, by Christy Altomare - would be sickening instead of heart-catching. Yet this does not excuse Anastasia, on the lightweight end of the scale, any more than it did Evita on the heavy. You can't have your revolution and eat it too.