BWW Review: ANASTASIA Enchants at Fox Cities P.A.C.
ANASTASIA opened at the Fox Cities Performing Center on January 8 and will continue to play through January 13. The show builds on the animated movie it is based on, adding new songs, more dynamic characters, and unbeatable staging, choreography, lighting, and costuming. While ANASTASIA is not a Disney production and lacks the buzz that Disney productions enjoy, it proves that the mouse does not have a monopoly on captivating family fare.
ANASTASIA is based on the 1997 animated film of the same name, which was inspired by the 1956 film of the same name, which was inspired by a play of the same name, which was inspired by the true story of Anna Anderson, who convinced many that she was the true Anastasia, though her claims were later disproven. While the true story of the death of the Romanovs and the subsequent royal claimants is compelling, this fictionalized take on the tales is equally engaging (if a significant variation from real history).
In ANASTASIA, Anya, a young, poor amnesiac is desperate to remember her past. She meets two con men, who decide that she could pass for the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. In hopes of receiving a financial reward, they venture to convince Anastasia's grandmother that she survived the attack that killed her family. However, along their journey, Anastasia and the two con men start to believe that she may be the true Grand Duchess. Unfortunately, so does Gleb, a Bolshevik general committed to preserving the new order by any means necessary.
ANASTASIA is a terrific show on the whole, with delightful music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and a strong book by Terrence McNally. However, what really makes ANASTASIA stand out from other shows is the beautiful staging. Innovative scenic design by Alexander Dodge paired with projection design by Aaron Rhyne and lighting design by Donald Holder create a gorgeous, immersive environment. Beautiful costume design by Linda Cho and diverse and varied choreography by Peggy Hickey take the experience to the next level. Perhaps most excitingly of all, all of these elements shift massively between the first and second acts to convey a change in location.
The cast brings energy to the show with their tremendous talent.
Lila Coogan is a standout as Anya. Her powerful singing voice is remarkable, but the sincere emotion she brings to the role is unparalleled. Coogan has undeniable star quality.
Stephen Brower brings youthful exuberance as con man Dmitry. While the character does some things that aren't entirely on the up-and-up, Brower's portrayal conveys a consistent underlying goodness.
Jason Michael Evans brings depth and complexity as Gleb. The character of Gleb is new to the stage show, replacing the over-the-top cartoony villain of the movie, Rasputin, and this change is a major improvement. Jason Michael Evans's performance provides a perfect foil to Anya. The character is haunted by ghosts from his own past, and Evans skillfully conveys the inner conflict the character faces.
Joy Franz's evolution as the Dowager Empress is remarkable. Early in the show, she is a younger, happier character. However, in the second act, she has aged and grown bitter. Franz conveys this subtly and believably through both her physical movements and overall stage presence.
Tari Kelly brings levity as Countess Lily. Her physical comedy and spot-on comedic timing get big laughs.
Edward Staudenmayer is charismatic as con man Vlad. The role is humorous but warmhearted, and with Staudenmayer's performance, it is easy to understand why other characters would fall for his cons.
ANASTASIA might not have the buzz of blockbuster Disney musicals, but it is nonetheless an irresistible take on a popular animated film. The staging has enough magical touches to satisfy children in the family, while the plot has enough depth and emotion to sustain the interest of adults.
Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman