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ANASTASIA at the Kennedy Center - Talented Cast Cannot Save a Disappointing Musical

As my wife and I approached the Kennedy Center's Opera House I was surprised to see so many young people...and I mean YOUNG!! It was if we were going to see ANNIE.

But this musical by two of my favorite composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens who have reunited with their RAGTIME book writer Terrence McNally falls flat. I do wonder what these small children who probably were enamored by the 1997 Fox cartoon of the same name (the credits also allude to the 1956 film which garnered an Oscar for Ingrid Bergman) were thinking while watching ANASTASIA.

The story deals with the Russian revolution in 1917 when the people revolted against Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family was then assassinated...or were they? The rumor of course is that little Anastasia somehow was not murdered and survived and the story surrounds a young streetsweeper in St. Petersburg Anya who answers an ad by two individuals looking to become rich by finding the heir to the throne. They are the middle-aged Vlad (the comedic Edward Staudenmayer) and the younger handsome partner in crime Dmirtry (the strong sounding Stephen Brower).

They are convinced about the possibility that Anya may be the missing Romanov and they decide to visit the last remaining heir, the Dowager Empress (the regal Joy Franz) who is living in Paris and has spent years watching young women pretending to be Anastasia.

Will the conmen reap their rich reward in fending off their Anya as the real Anastasia? They attempt to teach her how to be a royal (yes similar to MY FAIR LADY) and are convinced their Anya is the true Anastasia after various clues including the finding of a diamond hidden in her dress.

That's the story. So, what is the appeal for young people? The only young person in the cast is "Little Anastasia" played by the perky Victoria Bingham who dances and prances and smiles and giggles in various scenes. Is this enough to satisfy young people? I really don't know. Do children understand reason why the Romanovs were overthrown and assassinated? They are all dressed in rich white garments, dance a lot of waltzes and seem to live in a huge mansion. Did they deserve to die? This is a question I'm sure parents are faced with.

Act I ends as the Anya and her partners arrive in Paris in a spectacular scene. Their journey by railroad, thanks to the great set design by Alexander Dodge and imaginative projections by Aaron Rhyne, is unforgettable and almost worth the price of admission. Is there a Tony Award yet for Best Projections? If will be. There is terrific lighting by Donald Holder (wonderful depiction only by light on the revolution and assassination of the Romanov family).

The costumes by Linda Cho are spot on. Peggy Hickey did the lovely Choreography and Peter Hylenski did the Sound.

Director Darko Tresnjak (who I know personally from his work at the Williamstown Theatre Festival many years ago) excels as best he can with the material he is given.

In Act II there is an attempt at levity by Vlad who reunites with an old flame Countess Lily (way over the top Tari Kelly). Their dance seems weird, forced, and not funny.

Believe or not there is a wonderful addition of a ballet sequence Swan Lake ballet where Claire Rathbun shines as "Odette".

Kudos to the ensemble for their incredible

energy throughout.

The lush Orchestra is sublime under the Direction of Lawrence Goldberg.

I must admit most people laughed and thoroughly enjoyed ANASTASIA. There is no question I seem to be in the minority.

ANASTASIA continues at the Kennedy Center Opera House until November 25. For tickets, call 202-467-4600 or visit You also have a second chance to see it since it will be coming to Baltimore's Hippodrome Dec. 4 to Dec. 9.


The popular PBS show Great Performances returns for a second year of its "Broadway's Best" series, complete with two musical theatre productions and two theatre-related documentaries. What do audiences have to look forward to? On the roster is a filmed version of the West End production of An American in Paris, the 2015 live UK broadcast of The Sound of Music, John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway, and Harold Prince: A Director's Journey.

An American in Paris

Aired November 2, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS and can be seen Thursday on WETA at 12 noon. Check your local listing.

Inspired by the hit 1951 Metro-Goldwyn Mayer movie musical of the same name that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, An American in Paris was a hit on Broadway in 2015. It won four Tony Awards including Best Choreography. Reimagined by director-choreographer Christopher Wheedon, with a book by Craig Lucas and stuffed to the brim with some of George and Ira Gershwin's most-sparkling songs, the musical was recorded live with its original stars Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild.

The Sound of Music

Airs November 9, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS

Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music is one of the most beloved musicals of all time, from its long-running original Broadway production that opened in 1959, to its 1965 Oscar-winning film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Now audiences will have a chance to see a new production, the 2015 United Kingdom version starring Julian Ovenden, Kara Tointon, and Maria Friedman.

John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway

Airs November 16, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS

John Leguizamo was recognized at the 2018 Tony Awards with a special trophy for his body of work. John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway is a documentary that follows this versatile actor-writer that follows Leguizamo's latest Broadway outing, Latin History for Morons. The documentary is directed by Ben DeJesus.

Harold Prince: The Director's Life

Airs November 23, 2018 at 9:00 PM ET on PBS

Who in the American Theatre has had a more prolific career than director-producer Harold Prince, the genius behind such hits as The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman (and myriad others)? With Harold Prince: A Director's Journey, theatre director and documentarian Lonny Price examines Prince's careers while conducting probing interviews with a wide variety of artists who worked with the master.

The Great Performances' "Broadway's Best" series will air on Fridays from November 2-23 at 9 PM ET on PBS. Each episode will be available for streaming on the day after it premieres.

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From This Author - Charles Shubow