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BWW Review: ANASTASIA at Des Moines Performing Arts: A Dazzling Journey To The Past

Lila Coogan as Anya
Photo by Evan Zimmerman

Have you ever found yourself wrapped up in a rumor, and in the end, wasn't sure what was real or not? Or have you wanted something to happen so badly it feels as though it becomes a reality? This week Des Moines Performing Arts opened "Anastasia" as part of the 2019-2020 Willis Broadway Series. This beautiful production will take you on a fantastic journey from

"Anastasia" is a new musical inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Pictures movie by the same name. At the top of the show, we meet Anastasia and the Romanov family. They are attending the ball when the palace when it is invading by the Bolsheviks. We see her separate from her family, and then we hear an explosion as the lights go out. The next character we meet is Gleb, who is a general who is in charge of putting a stop to the rumors that Anastasia is alive. We then meet Dmitry and Vlad, two con artists, who are auditioning girls to take to Paris to claim an award for finding Anastasia, offered by her grandmother the Dowager Empress. After unsuccessful auditions, a young girl named Anya, who has amnesia, comes into their theatre. They decide to teach Anya about the Romanov's to use in their scheme. As they teach her, she starts to be able to remember things that they didn't teach her. Gleb finds out and heads out to stop the scheme. Are they able to make it to Paris, and is she the real Anastasia? That you will have to go to the show to find out.

Is "Anastasia" worth the journey to Des Moines? The production on its own is worth the journey. The music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, allow the audience to go on a soaring journey that balances the old fashion style of musical theatre song, as well as modern. The new placement of the songs from the movie makes them even more poignant in the show. One of my favorites is having my favorite song, "Journey to the Past," close the first Paris, all within the confines of two and a half hours.

Lila Coogan as Anya
The Cast of Anastasia
Photo by Evan Zimmerman

Besides being a beautiful show to listen to, this show provides a fantastic spectacle for the eye to see. The show does transitions quickly from scene to scene thanks to the gorgeous projection designed by Aaron Rhyne. His projections provide additional depth to the stage that gives it a cinematic feel.

The biggest surprises of the night came in Linda Cho's beautiful costumes. The first time the Romanov's come on stage with their crystal beaded costumes, you could hear many audience members gasp in awe of them. The wonder continues in the second act during a scene at the opera when Anastasia comes out in her iconic blue dress.

The cast does a terrific job of bringing life to this beautiful show. This cast consists of a trio of actors that bring a balance to the darker elements of the show with the humor they bring. Those actors are Jake Levy as Dimitri, Jeremiah Ginn as Vlad, and Allison Ewing as Countess Lily. Levy and Sudenmayer bring comedy to the first act as they plan the scheme to pass Anya off as Anastasia. Ewing brings the humor to the second half as she dreams of what Russia used to be.

Leading the cast is Lila Coogan as Anya. While Paris may hold the key to your heart, Lila holds the key to this show. For this show to work, the audience needs to question whether she is Anastasia or not. Lila gives the audience an Anya that at one moment you believe she is Anastasia, but at the end of the show, you question if she was. The ambiguity of the ending was something I wasn't expecting and made the evening that much more enjoyable. She also has a tremendously powerful voice that sings out the score as though it was written for her. Not for a movie 20 years ago.

Whether seeing this show will take you on a journey to your past, or if it' your first time with this story, you will have a fantastic evening. The soaring music, the beautiful projections and costumes, and the tremendously talented cast, each comes together to deliver a beautiful show. This production continues at through Sunday, March 1, before it closes the doors of it's Des Moines stop. If you would like more information, or to purchase tickets, visit

Jake Levy as Dmitry
Lila Coogan as Anya
Ed Staudenmayer as Vlad
Photo by Evan Zimmerman

Review written by DC Felton
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