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Review: ANASTASIA at the National Arts Centre

Review: ANASTASIA at the National Arts Centre

Although there is nothing earth shattering about Anastasia, the scenery, costumes, and cast performances are all excellent reasons to see the show during its national tour stop in Ottawa.

Review: ANASTASIA at the National Arts Centre
The Company of The North American Tour of ANASTASIA
- Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Broadway Across Canada's presentation of Anastasia, the musical inspired by the 1997 animated film of the same name, has finally arrived in Ottawa after a Covid-related postponement last April. The crowd was visibly excited on opening night, especially the children in the audience. Anastasia starts out dark; it is a turbulent time in history, after all. After the Romanov family is assassinated - this is implied, rather than directly shown, but may still be scary for the littlest viewers - the story jumps ahead to 1927.

Review: ANASTASIA at the National Arts Centre
Marley Sophia (Little Anastasia) and Gerri Weagraff
(Dowager Empress) in The North American
Tour of ANASTASIA - Photo by Jeremy Daniel

We meet Anya (Veronica Stern), now a young woman, suffering from amnesia and longing to find her family. Through hazy dreams, she has come to believe her grandmother lives in Paris. Meanwhile, there is a rumour on the streets of Saint Petersburg that Anastasia Romanov has survived the assassination. Dmitry (Willem Butler), a con artist, and Vlad (Bryan Seastrom), a fake ex-aristocrat, convince Anya to help conduct a scheme that will lead the trio out of poverty-stricken Russia to Paris, where the Dowager Empress (Gerri Weagraff) now lives. The plan is that, once Dmitry and Vlad present Anya to the Dowager as her long-lost Anastasia, Anya will live happily ever after, and her cohorts will reap the reward money. As she is educated on the Romanov family history and noble mannerisms, Anya begins to believe that she may, in truth, be Anastasia. Complicating matters, Anya comes to the attention of the Russian army and Gleb (Ben Edquist), a Bolshevik soldier, is instructed to pursue her and either bring her back to Russia or kill her.

Review: ANASTASIA at the National Arts Centre
Veronica Stern as Anya in the North American Tour of
ANASTASIA - photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Stern, making her National Tour debut, is one of BroadwayWorld's "People to Watch in 2022" and it is easy to see why. She gave a compelling performance as Anya, bringing her character's attributes to the forefront - insecurity, fear, strength, and resilience. Edquist gave an impressive performance as the conflicted soldier, sworn to do his duty but unsure that he can carry out the orders.

Seastrom, together with Madeline Raube as Countess Lily, were mainly used as comic relief, but played it up to the audience, who enjoyed every moment. I loved watching Raube use her body to convey her character, something that I was perhaps more aware of than the average viewer, thanks to our pre-show discussion. Act II's "Land of Yesterday" enabled Raube to really showcase her skills and was a highlight of the show for me.

A supporting character that really stood out to me was Amin Fuson as the ill-fated Count Ipolitov. His rendition of "Stay, I Pray You" was heartfelt and allowed him to shine. Anastasia is Fuson's professional debut and, if his performance here is anything to judge by, he should have a long and successful career ahead.

Review: ANASTASIA at the National Arts Centre
Brandon Delgado (Gleb) and Kyla Stone (Anya)
in The North American Tour of ANASTASIA
- Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The Swan Lake ballet performance was wonderfully executed. Some of the ensemble have extensive ballet training and they were able to put their talent on full display. I loved that they were able to take their bows after the ballet number and bask in the well-deserved applause from the audience.

Anastasia has liberally borrowed ideas from some of the best-known and loved musicals. For example, Dmitry and Vlad's grooming of Anya to pass her off as nobility is heavily reminiscent of My Fair Lady. Gleb's character bears many similarities to that of Les Misérables' Javert but is, regretfully, not nearly as flushed out. The music box as a connection to the past, playing an instrumental version of the recurring theme song is a subtle nod to The Phantom of the Opera. Although it shares elements with some of those great musicals, Anastasia doesn't feel like it has quite the same staying power as its inspiration.

Where Anastasia really excels is in its lavish costumes (Linda Cho) and scenery (Alexander Dodge). The scenic design was superbly done, incorporating screens in an unobtrusive, seamless way so that, at times, it was difficult to discern what was on the screens and what was an actual stage prop. It was also used to extend the stage and even brought the audience to the top of the Eiffel Tower. In the first act, the screens were also used brilliantly to show the army descending on the palace. My favourite part of the show incorporated all the best elements of the musical. In "Once Upon a December", the costumes, set and stage design come together with the cast's vocals, led by Stern, to create a beautifully poignant, haunting, and magical scene.

Review: ANASTASIA at the National Arts Centre
Kyla Stone (Anya) and The Company of The North American Tour
of ANASTASIA - Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Although there may be nothing earth shattering about Anastasia, the scenery, costumes, and cast performances are all excellent reasons to see the show during its national tour stop in Ottawa. Its overarching themes of the importance of family and finding oneself are relatable and appealing to all ages and the musical is visually stunning. You can be part of the journey to the past with Anastasia at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through September 4, 2022. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.




From This Author - Courtney Castelino


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