Review: ANASTASIA THE MUSICAL at Theatre In The Park

A fairy tale princess finds her prince

By: Jun. 18, 2024
Review: ANASTASIA THE MUSICAL at Theatre In The Park
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Second show this spring at the Shawnee Mission Park Theatre In The Park, is ANASTASIA, a 2017 fairy tale based on a wished-for result concerning the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia. This, in turn, was based on an earlier 1997 animated film and an even earlier imagining in a 1956 film.

ANASTASIA the Musical at Theatre in the Park is fortunate to have found some super voices for all its lead roles. 

Mary Ann Traxler Rosinski as Anya/Anastasia is a super mezzo- soprano with the exact proper bearing to bring off the part.  She has one of those lovely, not often heard, musical theater voices that stops you and commands your attention.Review: ANASTASIA THE MUSICAL at Theatre In The Park

The three male voices Mishi Schueller (as the con artist Vlad), Bryson Kendall (as the love interest Dimitry), and Tom Nelson (as the alternate love interest/villain Gleb) are all vocally superior.

The remaining two female voices Krista Eyler (as Lilly/comedy relief) and Erica Baruth (as the Dowager Empress Marie) do not appear until Act II.   Both have very nice singing voices.

There is also a remarkably good ensemble, who sing and execute the choreography that they have been given in a serviceable manner.

The thirteen piece pit band directed by James Levy is unusually excellent. 

ANASTASIA THE MUSICAL has some good music but seems a bit two dimensional. Perhaps this is because Anastasia and her family were real murdered humans within almost living human memory or because the Russian hierarchy is still lobbing explosive rockets into neighboring Ukraine.

The ensemble production numbers (especially in Act 1) are well performed but just appear for no apparent good reason relating to the story. Transitions are choppy.  Singers are often positioned full front to the audience not relating to the person with whom they are singing. Sound is great. Direction is by Barb Nichols. Scenic Design is by Kelly Harrod.

Review: ANASTASIA THE MUSICAL at Theatre In The Park

A simple pleasure of early summer is setting up near sunset with family on an outdoor amphitheater grass area in front of a community theater stage. This is community theater at a high level. Musically and performance-wise ANASTASIA is a fine example. 

 Children run to and  fro both before and after performances. The scent of popcorn and barbeque hangs in the air.  The family experience is more important than the quality of the script. This is a great way to get out with the kiddos and introduce them to musical theater, a very important American invention.

Review: ANASTASIA THE MUSICAL at Theatre In The Park

Anastasia Romanoff was the youngest daughter of Nicholas, the last Czar of all the Russias.  Anastasia, her parents, sisters and brother were murdered in 1918 by their Bolshevik guards at a small city in the Ural Mountains.

In the same way we debate whether Elvis survives unrecognized in a cave somewhere, or if John Wilkes Booth escaped his pursuers after the Lincoln assassination, we hope that Anastasia somehow survived.

In the years that followed, Anastasia pretenders to the Romanoff fortune surfaced. Anatasia was actually seventeen when she was killed.  The missing duchess fantasy has led to plays, films, animated adventures, and finally to this musical rendering in 2017.  It closed on Broadway as the Covid pandemic closed all of Broadway eighteen months later.

ANASTASIA THE MUSICAL is a direct descendent of the 1997 animated project from 20th Century Fox Studios.  Like the Disney shows playing down the block, there is a certain business logic to the project.

If an animated film can be successful on screen, then a live action version can run for years on Broadway. See THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, LITTLE MERMAID, and FROZEN, for successful examples.   

The advantages to the studio are a prebuilt audience, prewritten score, reduced development costs, and smaller financial risk. Add a few more anthem-light songs, shake well, and squeeze the last possible value out of a studio asset.  Sounds like a winner.  Unfortunately, it also leads to a homogenization of Broadway stage offerings.

The animated version of ANASTASIA featured six songs by the redoubtable team of McNally, Flaherty, and Ahrens.  This iteration has additional songs, mostly anthems with two comedy routines.  The playwrights and composers are very talented.   They made me cry with RAGTIME. ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is likewise a great show.  The rest of the Faherty and Ahrens catalog is similarly distinguished

ANATASIA continues through June 22.  Tickets are available at www.theatreinthe park.org or by telephone at 913.826.3012.

Next up: ANYTHING GOES.

Photos courtesy of Theatre In The Park



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