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BWW Review: ANASTASIA at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

Strong Cast Shines Despite Weak score

BWW Review: ANASTASIA at Shea's Buffalo Theatre Romance, Russian espionage and a bad case of amnesia in short order sum up the plot of the latest Broadway tour to land in Buffalo as ANASTASIA took to the stage at Shea's last night. Inspired by the animated 1997 musical film of the same name and endless other films and books, the story of a Russian countess somehow surviving assassination continues to entice.

Originally scheduled to play in the spring of 2020, Buffalo audiences have been waiting patiently for this tour since the beginning of the pandemic. Two years later they get to make their own decision regarding the tale that has been spun for the past one hundred years. The Romanov family was assassinated by the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg in 1918 but rumors that their young daughter Anastasia somehow survived have proved as intriguing as the number of woman who have claimed to be her. Book writer Terrence McNally puts his own spin on the story where Anastasia's grandmother, the Dowager Countess, leaves for Paris prior to the assassinations, promising her young granddaughter that they will meet again in Paris someday. Flash forward and two con men who are out to make a buck believe they can get rich if they can find an imposter to become Anastasia and return her to the dowager for a large reward. Enter Anya, a young street sweeper who has amnesia and who we all are led to believe is the true Anastasia.

An overly long first act all takes place in oppressive Russia while the second moves to light hearted Paris. McNally crams in a huge number of characters and secondary plot lines that could easily be trimmed. The social commentary of the state of Russia often is at odds with the overall tone of the piece. The second act finds comic numbers that play for laughs, but feel wedged in.

The show employs a super talented cast giving it their all. Anya (aka Anastasia) is played by the wonderful Kyla Stone. Full of charm, gumption and a knock out voice, Stone inhabits the role as if it were tailor made for her. Whether singing the lilting "Once Upon A December" or the powerful "Journey to the Past," Ms. Stone has star power.

Our con men are Sam McLellan as Dmitry and Bryan Seastrom as Vlad. The two do fine work in molding Anya into Anastasia, ala Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering. McLellan's bright tenor voice and winning good looks prove to be everything one would want in a romantic lead. His eventual romance with Anya begins as two down on their luck commoners but becomes complicated as Anya morphs into Anastasia and Dmitry is left questioning how he fits in.

Seastrom is charming as the aging former member of the Imperial court. He reminisces and easily morphs into a song and dance man, when needed.

Gerri Weagraff is the Dowager Countess who is tasked to weed out imposters and find her long last granddaughter. Weagraff doesn't appear frail or imperious enough to convince of her noble stature. She is written as a character to be feared, but her portrayal never gained enough fire to be believable.

Brandon Delago is Gleb, the Bolshevik General who is charge of making sure any remaining Romanov is killed and he makes it his mission to take down Anastasia. Delgado is electrifying on stage, sinister and snide. His strong voice sailed through the theatre with chilling effect.

Madeline Raube lands a lot of laughs as Countess Lily, the lady in waiting to the Dowager and former love interest of Vlad. Her role is written for pure comic effect, bordering on farce.

Director Darko Tresnjak, who did fine work on Broadway's A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER, doesn't find as much dramatic tension as one hopes for. By the time Anastasia is presented to the Dowager, the initial meeting is off stage, leaving the audience devoid of the apex of the story.

The score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens has been greatly augmented from the movie version, and therein lies a large reason why the show lumbers along at points. Much of the music does little to advance the plot or becomes repetitious without finding a central core to each song. Over 31 numbers, including reprises, are listed in the program and many merely come across as pedantic. The most interesting writing came as the central characters all view the ballet "Swan Lake" from their box seats, singing the "Quartet at the Ballet."

Sumptuous costumes by Linda Cho are stunning and play beautifully against the scenic design of Alexander Dodge. But it is the projections by Aaron Rhyne that take set design into the 21st century, where projections are shown in technicolor-like effect, blurring the lines between on stage set pieces and rising curtains, treed forests and moving locomotives.

Bills Burns choreographs using original choreographer Peggy's Hickey's work. At times the stylized movements during the Prologue appeared gimicky and over blown, but otherwise the dances are elegant and the dancers moved with a genuine fluidity. The snippets from Swan Lake were gracefully performed.

It's not often that an animated film gets transported to the stage unless it is a Disney property. ANASTASIA lends itself to such a transfer, and happily, in this case it is done without the aid of stage puppetry. If only all the humans on stage had found their story trimmed and more focused than what this creative team has given them.

ANASTASIA plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre though April 24, 2022. Contact for more information.

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From This Author - Michael Rabice