Review Roundup: ANASTASIA on Tour, What Did the Critics Think?
The beloved Broadway musical, "Anastasia" hit the road this past fall to bring the royal tale to audiences nationwide. Check out what the critics from each tour stop have to say about the production in their reviews below!
Anastasia Tour Cast
Lila Coogan stars as Anya, playing opposite Stephen Brower (Dmitry). Edward Staudenmayer and Tari Kelly play Vlad and the Countess Lily, with Jason Michael Evans and Joy Franz rounding out the principle cast as Gleb and Dowager Empress, respectively.
San Francisco Reviews
Linda Hodges, BroadwayWorld: Coogan shines as the orphaned Anya, who is feisty and strong despite her painful past and tenuous present. Her beautiful, lilting soprano rings out about hazy memories from long ago but she can't be sure if it's Dmitry and Vlad's lessons or if it's her family history that's making its way to the surface of her mind. But the bigger dilemma of escaping Russia overrides all other needs and soon they prepare to head to Paris to meet their future.
Randy McMullen, The Mercury News: The problem is there are too many elements in this play, and none of them are terrific. Anya is written as a prototypical heroine, so endearing and noble (and she can fight, of course) that we feel none of her torment, and that robs the story line of much of its edge. The romance is so tepid you could imagine the Hallmark Channel begging these characters to spice things up a little. And the songs are fine, but hardly memorable.
Lily Janiak, The San Francisco Chronicle: As with other occupants of this dimension, "Anastasia," which opened Wednesday, Sept. 4, at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre, tries to have it all ways and thus has it none. In fashioning an alternative history about the supposedly lost daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the show stalls in the self-evident, insists that the foregone is suspenseful and foists weight upon the meaningless.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: The national tour, I'm happy to report, has been done right. One of the advantages of so much digital scenery is that they can bring it on the road - and they can't cut back the physical scenery all that much without having to reprogram everything. So you get the full Broadway experience.
Hedy Weiss, WTTW: Coogan brings a winningly unaffected quality to Anya, and uses her strong if something less than beautiful voice to fine effect. And as Dmitry, Brower does a solid job of growing from streetwise kid to honorable young man. And as Gleb, Evans does a credible job as a man of divided loyalties. Many of the others in the cast are caricatures rather than characters, calling to mind how Carol Burnett might have devised a comic sketch about the era.
Alan Bresloff, Around the Town Chicago: The story is well told with a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. While it is not as strong as their other musical "Ragtime", I think it is a well told story and beautifully staged by Darko Tresnjak with great choreography by Peggy Hickey. The musical numbers help to propel the story with a few that truly stand out; "Journey to The Past" to end act one shows off the range of Ms. Coogan as Anya and "Close The Door" allows Ms. Franz as "nana" to show her talents.
Patrick O'Brien, Chicagoland Musical Theatre: What's holding it back? It could be the material itself. Stretching a 90-minute movie into a two-act musical may make things a little thin. Even though McNally does add some episodes that steer this family-oriented musical into some grisly territory, such turns feel like affectations at maturity when everything else is so broadly convivial, so - dare we say?-cartoonish. For their part, Ahrens and Flaherty have kept the good songs - "Journey to the Past" becomes the big Act One closer - and have made some worthy additions, particularly a mournful last goodbye to the motherland, "Stay, I Pray You" or said motherland's new anthem, "The Neva Flows." The rest is kind of filler.
Jeffrey Ellis, BroadwayWorld: Chief among the human attributes of this particular Anastasia is its leading lady: Lila Coogan's tremendous stage presence and lovely voice make her the ideal choice for the show's leading player and her onstage chemistry with Stephen Brower, Jason Michael Evans, Joy Franz and Edward Staudenmayer, is a palpable reminder of the intricacies of casting to achieve a particular theatrical goal. From the moment she steps onstage, looking ever so much as a Russian-bred ragamuffin struggling to eke out a meager existence as a street sweeper, Coogan exudes confidence.
Helen Meely, Williamson Herald: The performance is a visual and musical delight, supported by a huge digital LED background wall that recreates in amazing depth and grandeur the old Russian elegance, its fall - even to its ghosts of the past - and then, to Anya, coming into her own in the beautiful "City of Lights," Paris. Besides the stunning look, "Anastasia" also has great songs ("Once Upon a December" is a hauntingly beautiful one that repeats throughout the show), wonderful dancing and acting, and beautiful voices to make the musical a truly memorable evening.
Coti Howell, Nashville Noise: After seeing opening night of Anastasia at TPAC, Nashville Noise has several reasons to recommend this show. It's visually stunning, thanks to the scenic design of Alexander Dodge and the projection design of Aaron Rhyne. The show takes full advantage of gorgeous scenery and projection, especially when the trio take a train trip in ACT I. The show's cast is also impressive. Lila Coogan is a star as the brave, yet confused, Anya. Stephen Brower's portrayal of Dmitry compliments her perfectly. Together, the two make music. At the show's end, the audience's reaction to Tari Kelly even surprised her. They loudly applauded for her performance as Countess Lily, a fun-loving aristocrat.
Cameron Kelsall, BroadStreetReview: The show contains moments that entertain on their own, like the winningly romantic pas-de-deux between Vlad and his former flame Countess Lily (Tari Kelly, channeling Carol Burnett), who now serves as the Dowager Empress's lady-in-waiting. But under Darko Tresnjak's generally smudgy direction, it doesn't coalesce into coherent storytelling-and as a result, we care little about the show's emotional center.
Jim Rutter, The Inquirer: Coogan's voice beams in hopeful numbers ("Journey to the Past," from the film), inviting the too-eager opening-night audience to root for her audibly. As the villainous General Gleb, Jason Michael Evans lumbers across the stage and the European continent like a Frankenstein's monster, but his rich baritone captures the humanity of a man torn between conscience and country.
David Fox, Reclining Standards: Veteran playwright Terrence McNally has both streamlined and broadened the story, introducing any number of new vulgarities along the way. (In the plus column, at least we lost Rasputin and the fruit bat.) Watching this, it's hard to remember that this distinguished team is also responsible for Ragtime, a truly splendid musical, but I urge you to try. The result is a garish stage pageant that could scarcely seem more contrived. Meandering from Russia (dank!) to Paris (glamorous!), there's not an authentic or moving moment to be found.
St. Louis Reviews
Chuck Lavassi, KDHX: Indeed, this colorful and charming romantic fantasy does pretty much everything right, beginning with an engaging score that supports the story well. "Anastasia" doesn't have the through-composed weight of Flaherty and Ahrens's "Ragtime" or the ingenious wit of their "Seussical," but it does the job and even manages to generate some memorable tunes. "Journey to the Past," the big first-act closer, has already caught on with many younger singers, for example.
Kevin Brackett, ReviewSTL: Brower and Staudenmayer are terrific together as Dmitry and Vlad. The two characters are as thick as thieves, and the actors share brilliant chemistry with one another. They seemingly leap from the animated film on to the stage, and are sure to become instant favorites. I was especially thrilled with Staudenmayer's portrayal of Vlad, which is a perfect companion to the animated version. He is absolutely hilarious as he brings the character to life with heart and humor. His scenes with Tari Kelly who plays Lily (Sophie in the movie) are fantastic, causing the entire house to erupt into laughter.
Washington, D.C. Reviews
Chuck Leonard DC Metro Theater Arts: Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne is nothing short of brilliant. The background projections are animated perfectly to support the characters' actions while melding seamlessly with the stage lighting by Donald Holder. Scene changes use modern wizardry that suggests the glorious extravagance of Imperialist Russian Operas and Parisian nightclubs. Fans of the 90's film will see neither Rasputin nor bats in this production, but some of the music and storyline do carry over from that earlier version.
Nelson Pressley, The Washington Post: Keeping up with the sophisticated imagery, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens expand on the score they wrote for the movie that generated the anthemic hit "Journey to the Past." The lush orchestral music exudes aristocracy, with lots of waltz tempos evoking imperial ballrooms. Flaherty and Ahrens were writing "Ragtime" as they worked on the movie, and the songs they added for Broadway are sturdily crafted, whether it's a jaunty travel number that percolates with adventure or an elegant ballet sequence in Paris.
Kelsey Casselbury, MD Theatre Guide: The scenic design by Alexander Dodge is overwhelming but in a good way. There's one caveat, though: An impressive yet overwhelming LED screen fills the back of the stage, and it's an effective way of setting the scene-until it's not. Here's the question: Can a professional become too technologically advanced, blurring the line a bit too much between cinema and stage? I can't decide, and it might boil down to each person's individual preference.
Channing Gray, Providence Journal: Unless you're into inane banter, a full-blown ballet and an excuse for the cast to slip into gowns and tiaras, "Anastasia" is a dud, an embarrassing bit of spectacle that tells us little about Russian history, and is more a cornball love story.
Janine Weisman, NewportRI: Shoutouts go to Staudenmauer and his Act II love interest Countess Lily (Tari Kelly) who give this show some badly needed comic relief with a fun song and dance number in which they rekindle a past forbidden love affair. Kelly is a bold triple threat here with her performance of "Land of Yesterday" at a Russian ex-pat nightclub in Paris.
Andria Tieman BroadwayWorld: The costumes in the production, designed by Linda Cho, are worthy of all the praise in the world. Going from Pre-revolution Russia, to the U.S.S.R., to Paris, the costumes set each scene perfectly in place and time. The somewhat minimal (for a Broadway musical) sets are enhanced with screens that take the audience quickly from palace to street scene, to train trip. While Aaron Rhyne's projections are generally quite effective, they are so heavily used that it almost seems like they just couldn't be bothered to build enough sets for this production. Sure it's based on a movie, but can't we have some physical sets and effects for the stage version?
Diana Wray, Houstonia: Somehow from there we lurch to a happy ending, of sorts, but it has the feel of fan fiction, and at the end of the day, that's what this whole thing is. Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the experience, oddly enough. It's fascinating to see the world of musical theater take on such a complicated subject, trying to wrench a happy ending out of such a tragic story. Plus, "Journey to the Past" is such a good song. If you go in with really relaxed expectations, and perhaps a little knowledge of Russian history, you won't entirely mind how often this thing doesn't quite work.
D. L. Groover, Houston Press: Anastasia is heavily padded with twice as many songs as the cartoon, which drags down the pace and adds nothing to the musical characterization of the show itself. The early songs, set in pre-Revolutionary Russia don't sound particularly Russian, and the '20s Parisian ensembles aren't very French. It all sounds like lukewarm mediocre Broadway. Even the quasi-famous set pieces, "In My Dreams" and "Journey to the Past," while certifiable power ballads, never quite spark.
Pnina Topham, BroadwayWorld: All of the actors were deeply committed and earnest in their roles. Lila Coogan as Anya, and Stephen Brower were particular standouts, in terms of playing really big to connect with young audiences. What I may categorize as over-emoting, seemed to be a fantastic and effective way to connect with younger viewers. ANASTASIA is a show that plays to its intended audience, and in that way, I found it deeply successful. As an adult viewer, however, I was startled by how long it took to draw me into the action, how long it took for me to care about the characters. It wasn't until about five or six songs and scenes in before ANASTASIA fully captivated my attention, due to a complicated (arguably necessary) book and backstory by Terrence McNally, and muddled direction by Darko Tresnjak. Stephen Flaherty's music and Lynn Ahrens' lyrics were thoughtful and appropriate, but also slow to compel interest. It rarely takes me more than a song or two to feel invested in characters.
Anastasia is based off the 1997 animated feature of the same name, with a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terrence McNally. The musical is directed by Darko Tresnjak and choreographed by Peggy Hickey.
How To Get Tickets
Be sure to catch Anastasia when it comes to a city near you! Upcoming tour stops include Orlando, Memphis, Detroit, San Francisco, LA and more! For the complete list of stop and ticket information, tap here.