BWW Review: ANASTASIA at The Bushnell
A mysterious girl, who may or may not be the long lost Princess Anastasia Romanov of Russia, a grandmother intent on finding her, the desperate men willing to do whatever it takes to get out of Russia, and the Russian officer determined to stop them all. These are at the center of the musical ANASTASIA which is now playing at The Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut.
ANASTASIA (book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) takes the story (and some of the music) that was introduced in the Twentieth Century Fox animated film and brings it to vivid life on the stage. The story follows a young girl, Anya (Lila Coogan) who has lost her memory but may possibly be the long lost daughter of the Romanov royal family who were all killed during the Bolshevik uprising in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1917. Anya meets two enterprising men, Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) a former aristocrat (though how he got into society is rather sketchy) and Dmitry (Jake Levy) a young man determined to get out of the increasingly repressive city (now renamed Leningrad). The men hatch a plan to pretend Anya is Anastasia and collect the reward from the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) and escape to Paris at the same time. Aiming to foil their plans is Gleb (Jason Michael Evans) a Russian autocrat who is as obsessed with the Communist ideal as he is Anya.
ANASTASIA, which got its start at Hartford's own Hartford Stage boasts strong direction from Darko Trejnak, who utilizes the stage effectively to convey a variety of settings. This is helped by the stellar projections (by Aaron Rhyne) which often feel more realistic than any standard set piece could. As the potential princess, Lila Coogan is a joy and boasts a strong and lyrical voice. Ms. Coogan is stalwart as Anya and her transformation as she prepares to be Anastasia is quite effective. As young Dmitry, Jake Levy is charming and he also shows off strong vocals in his numbers, especially those with Ms. Coogan. Their on stage chemistry is strong and they are believable as young people falling in love, whether they want to or not. Comic relief comes first from Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad and in the second act from his lost love, Countess Lily, played by the marvelous Tari Kelly. Ms. Kelly steals the show on more than one occasion, but especially in the boisterous "The Land of Yesterday" which also includes some of Peggy Hickey's vibrant choreography. As the villain of the story, Gleb, Jason Michael Evans shows off a booming baritone that conveys his unwavering commitment to Mother Russia and its new ideals and his hatred of the old regime and all it stood for. Finally, as the Dowager Empress, Joy Franz is brilliant bringing a simmering aristocratic air with a mix of deep love for her lost granddaughter.
Linda Cho's costumes are wonderfully fitting for the era and are beautiful, especially Anya's two dresses in the second act. Alexander Dodge's sets work very well and pair perfectly with the previously mentioned projections, delivering a seamless experience that conveys spaces much grander and ornate than one might expect. Finally, Donald Holder's lighting and Peter Hylenski's sound design round out the strong technical design.
Overall, ANASTASIA is a beautifully produced and captivating story. The first act can be a bit slow, but the second act makes up for it in energetic dance numbers, dramatic meetings and emotional payoffs (and not to mention beautiful sets and costumes). If you missed this when it was at Hartford Stage a few years ago and more recently in its Broadway bow, I encourage you to check out this beautiful show.
ANASTASIA runs at the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, CT January 14 - 19. The Bushnell is located at 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT. For tickets and information, contact the box office at 860.987.5900 or visit www.bushnell.org
Bottom Photo: Lila Coogan (Anya) and the Company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA - Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade