BWW Review: ANASTASIA Holds the Key to Your Heart
Figures dancing gracefully, costumes sparkling magnificently, and revolution brewing eminently - all this and more compose the first scene of the beloved musical Anastasia, the story of the Russian princes title character journeying to her past to remember who she was, and in the process, discovering who she is.
The story begins in the Russian palace ballroom, filled with the most marvelous white costumes, lavish scenery, regal dancing, and a score that combines everything that you love about musical theatre. Although the story changes from this scene, these scenic, visual, and auditory elements remain consistent throughout the show and make for an immersive theatrical experience.
When the 1917 Russian Revolution interrupts the party at the palace promptly - the lives of the entire Romanov family are taken, except one. Anastasia (Beth Stafford Laird) escapes the horrific events with amnesia and works as Anya, a street sweeper, to earn a day's wages.
Having seen what is happening in Russia, Dmitry and Vlad plan to journey out of the capital city and make their way to France with "Anastasia." Their ploy is to train a girl to act like the real Anastasia, so that her grandmother in Paris will recognize her and pay Dmitry and Vlad for their valor. They find their "Anastasia" in Anya. Sprinkle in a little romance, and the plan becomes a little more complicated than Dmitry or Vlad had intended.
If this plot sounds somewhat familiar, it may be because the musical is partially based on legend, partially based on on the 1956 film, and partially based on the 1997 animated film starring Meg Ryan and Angela Lansbury.
Despite the grandeur of the show, my biggest critique would have to be the focus and scope of the plot. Some aspects of the show did cause for an occasional eye roll, usually dramatic lines that seem plucked out of a Disney movie. Some fat could have been trimmed to keep the show more succinct: by developing the story with depth of only one or two characters instead of the breadth and brevity of half a dozen. After all, the show is only called Anastasia.
This isn't to say that the show is boring by any means, but some songs, scenes, and dialogues felt forced in order to give each character their time in the spotlight.
What never felt forced was the stellar performance of Ms. Laird. When she performed "In My Dreams" at the beginning of the first act, I was captivated and remained fixated for the rest of the show. An understudy for Lila Coogan, Ms. Laird's confidence and elegance would never allude to that; I would not be surprised if she had been practicing this role for years, and I would certainly see her perform this role again.
Overall, Anastasia was a really great production from start to finish. From projection designed scene changes that were accompanied seamlessly with traditional sets to songs that will never linger in the land of yesterday, the quality is fit for a royal court. Anastasia runs through October 21 at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh.
To see or not to see score: 8/9; Strongly Recommended Show
Photo by: Evan Zimmerman