BWW Review: ANASTASIA is a Bit More Than a Journey to the Past
Let's be real -- if you're catching the musical Anastasia, it has more to do with your fixation with the 1997 animated movie than your fascination with Russian history.
So for most accounts, the touring production of the Broadway show won't disappoint. You'll drift nostalgically through Ahrens & Flaherty songs like "Once Upon a December" and "Journey to the Past," both sung with conviction from the titular lost princess Anya (Lila Coogan). The plot (from what I almost remember) is similar enough, just replace the fantastical elements with Russian government.
It follows the fabricated story of an orphan named Anya, assumed to be the lost princess Anastasia Romanoff, whose royal family was murdered a decade prior, leaving the princess with amnesia. She's swept up by an ex-member of the Imperial Court, Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) and street-smart Dmitry (Stephen Brower), conmen who plan to use her to convince the Dowager Empress they've found her favorite granddaughter and collect a reward. All the while, they're chased to Paris by a general for the Bolsheviks, Gleb (Jason Michael Evans), whose father murdered Anastasia's family.
No, there's no witty bat named Bartok or a resurrected Rasputin, but you won't miss them too much. The musical takes a bit less of a mystical approach to this assumed account of historical fiction, but it will leave you feeling like you saw some actual magic.
The projection design (by Aaron Rhyne) might be the real star here. It's doubtful you've seen too many stage productions that use it as seamlessly as Anastasia. It's followed closely by Linda Cho's magnificent costume designs. These two scenic elements alone could be worth the price of admission.
The performances are strong as well. Coogan envelops the role of Anya very naturally while she sings the hell out of it. Brower's Dmitry is just as charming as he should be, and they're relationship grows well. It's the second act where you really fall for Staudenmayer's Vlad, partnered with Tari Kelly as Countess Lily. The pair are a clear comedic standout of the production.
It was the Russian history that was hard for me to follow. While I understood the basic plot, there were a few moments I was totally disconnected from the action. The additional elements that didn't seem to be in the film made the stage production seem a bit all over the place.
Yet despite a few moments of bewilderment, Anastasia was still quite the stunner. Whether you see it for the gorgeous score or spectacular visuals, or even if you're just a fan of the film, you'll leave enchanted.
Anastasia plays the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through August 18. Tickets at DenverCenter.org
Photos by Matthew Murphy