BWW Review: National Tour of ANASTASIA Pays a Glowing Visit to Los Angeles
Anastasia The New Broadway Musical/book by Terrence McNally/music by Stephen Flaherty/lyrics by Lynn Ahrens/directed by Darko Tresnjak/Hollywood Pantages Theatre/choreographed by Peggy Hickey/musical director: Lawrence Goldberg/through October 27 only
Based on the 1997 animated film "Anastasia", Anastasia the New Broadway Musical, bowing on broadway in 2017, is an entertaining whirlwind of sight and sound. It will make you laugh and cry. You will undoubtedly leave the theatre with a lasting impression of grande theatricality and how it weaves its magic into our humdrum lives. Plus, it is based on fact. Currently onstage at the Hollywood Pantages until October 27 only, this Anastasia has the makings of a great big hit.
In 1917 when the Romanov dynasty was gunned down in St. Petersburg, Russia by the revolting Bolsheviks, the entire family perished with perhaps the exception of Grand Duchess Anastasia of Nikolaevna. It was rumored that she survived, merely a rumor, no proof. In 1927 impoverished street sweeper Anya (Lila Coogan), looking for other work, stumbles upon conmen Dimitry (Jake Levy) and his partner Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer), who are determined to come up with a girl that they may train and pass off as Anastasia to her grandmother the Dowager Empress (Joy Franz). The lady resides in Paris. She is a hardboiled woman who lives with the dream of finding her granddaughter but is quick to decry a fraud of any kind.
Terrence McNally has cautiously structured his book with Act One in Russia and Act Two in Paris. In 1927 Paris offered everything that Russia did not: freedom, and the opportunity for creativity, basically to live as one pleased. The characters we see in St, Petersburg in Act One are searching for something better. Orphan Anya wants to know who she is and Dimitry, also an orphan, longs to find his identity as well. Vlad wants to find passion with his former lover Countess Lily (Tari Kelly), now a lady in waiting to the Dowager Empress, and the Dowager Empress still dreams of being reunited with Anastasia. Another character, new to the Anastasia storyline, is Gleb, a villainous Bolshevik general who has taken control of St. Petersburg, now called Leningrad. Gleb's (Jason Michael Evans) father was one of the revolutionaries who gunned down Anastasia's family. Gleb longs to be like his father and kill Anastasia, if she exists. Unfortunately, for him, he falls in love with Anya and cannot complete his mission.
The beauty of the story is that the old adage "the grass is always greener on the other side" may be applied here. Happiness cannot be bought. Anya is Anastasia and is reunited with her grandmother, but she finds she is in love with Dimitry and would rather continue her life with him than live amongst the wealthy members of the royal family. Dimitry too gives up his desire for the money and settles for the beauty of being forever in love with Anya. It's a lovely fairytale come to life.
Under Tresnjak's uber skilled direction and with Peggy Hickey's fast and furious choreography, the ensemble is sublime. Coogan is dynamic as Anya with a rich and powerful vocal instrument. Staudenmayer is a fabulous dancer and delightfully funny as Vlad. Evans makes a strong villain out of Gleb, a pretty much unnecessary character, and Levy is fine as Dimitry. Franz is superb as the Dowager Empress, torn by doubt and filled with relentless passion. The real scene stealer in Act Two is Tari Kelly as Lily. She is hilarious as the member of the court in love with a commoner and goes all out to get thunderous laughs.
Technically, projection design by Aaron Rhyne is over the moon. St. Petersburg at night converting in Anya's mind into the 1917 ball preceding her family's execution is astounding as is the ride on the train from Russia to France. With the movement of the railroad tracks behind, you could swear you were onboard. Add bravo to scenic designer Alexander Dodge, to gorgeous costumes by Linda Cho, to the magnificent lighting design of Donald Holder and to the vibrant sound design of Peter Hylenski. McNally's book moves along at a good pace providing tears and laughter, and Lynn Ahrens' and Stephen Flaherty's score is memorable, especially during the "Traveling Sequence". The train station reminds one almost to the letter of the immigrants in Ragtime, which the pair also co-wrote.
Don't miss Anastasia the New Broadway Musical! It is a theatrical experience of the highest order. I saw men cry as well as women, so forget that macho misconception! This is a sensitive tale filled with passion for everyone young and old
(photo credit: Evan Zimmerman)