Review: Broadway Across America presents ANASTASIA at Kentucky Performing Arts

The production runs now through August 7th

By: Aug. 04, 2022
Review: Broadway Across America presents ANASTASIA at Kentucky Performing Arts
The Broadway musical Anastasia finally opened in Louisville this week, 28 months after its anticipated opening in March of 2020. It also marks the final show of Broadway in Louisville's "Welcome Back" season. The audience was buzzing as patrons filled into Whitney Hall to attend the opening night over two years in the making.

Anastasia is based on a 1997 animated film of the same name, and tells the story of the long-lost Grand Duchess Anastasia of the Romanovs of Russia, and the legend of her survival. The animated film is a modern classic for many, mainly thanks to original songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. While the core story is the same--and the stage show keeps the film's beloved songs-- the stage production is very different from the film on which it is based and incorporates many new songs by Ahrens and Flaherty.

The show opens with the downfall of the Romanovs in Russia. The entire family is believed to be dead except for the Dowager Empress, who had gone to France before the slaughter. Under the new rule of Russia we meet Vlad and Dmitry, two lower class criminals looking for their next con job. As rumors swirl that Anastasia survived, Vlad and Dmitry learn that the Grand Empress is offering a reward to anyone who returns the real Anastasia to her. They meet a street sweeper named Anya who has amnesia, and convince her to join them to become Anastasia. In the process, she starts to question and believe that she is indeed the real Anastasia, and memories of her past come trickling back.
On opening night, the cast was led by Victoria Madden (and understudy for the title role) and Madden was an absolute star as Anya. Her vocals soared, and she easily embodied the sweetness and scrappy nature of the character. She also had wonderful chemistry with Sam McLellan as Dmitry. McLellan had a lot of charm and very strong vocals. He played the role ever so slightly goofy, which made the character even more endearing. McLellan also had a great rapport with Bryan Seastrom as Vlad, his partner in crime. Seastrom provided much of the comedic relief in what could otherwise at points be a very bleek tale. Rounding out the core cast is Ben Edquist as Gleb, the officer assigned with finding and killing Anastasia (if she is indeed the lost princess). The role itself is a bit underwritten, but Edquist makes the most of his time on stage showcasing a beautiful baritone range so rarely heard in new musicals anymore. Along with some good scene work, Edquist breathes life into what otherwise could be a two dimensional character. Madeline Raube as Countess Lily and Gerri Weagraff as the Dowager Empress make bigger impressions in the show's second act, and Raube leads one of the best production numbers in the show.
The show is interesting in that it's very similar to the film upon which it is based, but it also tells a new version of the legend of Anastasia. The show's marketing has always been aimed at families, and I understand given the connection to the film, but the stage show feels much more melancholy and dark. The show is also quite intellectual in a lot of ways, dealing with themes such as grief, identity, and social class dynamics. Because of this, I feel like Anastasia did the "bringing an animated film to the stage" process better than most. Where Aladdin and Frozen can come across as somewhat cheap and lifeless, Anastasia deepens its narrative in a many ways. Young children may not be captivated, and to them it may seem like a history lesson (as evidenced by the one who fell asleep in the row in front of mine).
The set is almost exclusively projections, which work better at some moments than others. For example, the opening sequence is breathtaking and uses them fabulously, but the scene on a train looks incredibly tacky and almost unfinished. The costumes by Linda Cho are quite glamorous and astounding, and there is a lot of wonderful craftsmanship to be viewed on the stage. The costume design more than makes up for what the set lacks.
For me personally, there is more than enough in this show to enjoy, especially the great performances at the core. One of the main things I left the show thinking was how amazing it was to see Victoria Madden anchor the show so beautifully! But the music is iconic and lovely, and the narrative is multifaceted. Seeing the musical would be wonderful night out for older children and adults. If you're so inclined, take a journey to the past with Anastasia, and visit the land of yesterday before the tour departs this Sunday.