BWW REVIEWS: ANASTASIA is Not a Botox Version of the Animated Movie
When the movie ANASTASIA was released in 1996, somewhere someone was humming along with the score of the 20th Century Fox film and thought "This might make a fantastic musical." It took nearly 20 years but the faith in the concept is paying off.
The musical, with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and the book by Terrence McNally, arrived in Columbus on Jan. 28 for a six-day engagement at the Ohio Theatre (39 East State Street in downtown Columbus). Though it bears little resemblance to the animated film that starred the voices of John Cusack, Meg Ryan, and Kelsey Grammar, ANASTASIA has enough to please historians, fans of the movie, and nearly anyone else who likes musical theatre.
ANASTASIA is one of those "what if" types of musicals that explores the possibilities of a daughter of Czar Nicholas II surviving the execution of the Russian royal family after Bolsheviks invaded the palace. In this story, a girl suffering from amnesia joins two Russian con men who want to pass her off as Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the royal family's lone survivor. The story has some sprouts of truth. Several women, the most notorious being Anna Anderson, tried to convince others they were Anastasia. However, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, historians were able to find the hidden graves of the czar and his family in 2006. The bodies of all the royal family, including Anastasia, were found.
Don't let the facts ruin a good story, right? McNally's book reinvents history in its telling of ANASTASIA. Anya (Lila Coogan) gets caught up in a scheme of Dmitry (Jake Levy) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer). Dmitry and Vlad had been "auditioning" for someone to play the role of the princess and fool the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz). "Perhaps you would have been more convincing if you had spit your gum out," Dmitry tells one hopeful. "It's not gum; it's tobacco," she replies.
The musical keeps six of the classic songs from the animated film, including "Once upon a December," "A Rumor in St. Petersburg," "Learn to Do It," and "Journey to the Past." Notably missing from the playlist is "In the Dark of the Night," which was left out when the dark subplot involving the sinister undead Rasputin and his batty companion, Bartok (thank God), was snipped out of the show. Replacing Rasputin as a villain is Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), a member of the Soviet secret police charged with eliminating any thought of Anastasia's survival.
Coogan and Levy's chemistry helps build a smoldering relationship between Anya and Dmitry while Evans shoulders Gleb's burden of compassion vs. duty admirably and believably. Staudenmayer pulls off the smarmy charm of Vlad, who cons his way into the inner circle of the elite socialites. Franz captures the Dowager Empress' world-weariness of meeting all of the Anastasias only to dismiss them as frauds.
Alexander Dodge's stage design is a stroke of genius as backdrops transform the stage from a St. Petersburg's square to an abandon theater to the grayness of a Soviet office and finally a train station. The violence in "The Last Dance of the Romanovs" and the haunting staging of Anya's dance among the ghosts of her family are evocative and breathtaking.
While it is not the same retelling of an animated favorite, ANASTASIA is the Broadway hit that many saw coming.
ANASTASIA has only four shows remaining in Columbus, with the musical being performed Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. and matinees at 2 p.m. Feb. 1 and 1 p.m. Feb. 2. Call 614-469-0939 for information.